FBI will not award technology upgrade contract until 2006

Extra time needed to ensure project is a success, official says.

The FBI will not name a winner for a massive contract to overhaul the agency's antiquated computer system until early next year, an FBI official said Monday.

Spokespersons for the defense contractors Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman separately confirmed that the companies are currently vying for the information technology system dubbed Sentinel.

"We are going to make sure it is done right this time," said the official. "We are taking the extra time to ensure that this project is a success," she said.

According to the official, no time limit has been set by the FBI for selecting a winner but the agency is anticipating a final selection will be made in early 2006. The official said the FBI was in the process of source selection.

FBI Director Robert Mueller testified in September before the House subcommittee overseeing appropriations for science agencies and the Commerce and Justice departments that a decision on the Sentinel contract would be made in the next several months.

"We are currently awaiting proposal responses from industry and expect to award the [Sentinel] contract in the next several months," Mueller said.

Many leaders have remained concerned over the FBI's future IT success.

"I believe that the upgrade of the FBI's information technology systems is one of the most critical challenges facing the FBI," Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine said in written remarks during the September hearing. "Without adequate systems, the FBI will not be able to perform its jobs as effectively and fully as it should."

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee blasted Mueller in July for the costly failure of the FBI's Virtual Case File system, which was abandoned after serious flaws were uncovered. Sentinel replaces this project, which had cost the department $170 million to build.

The FBI also has received heat from lawmakers over the agency's poor maintenance of terrorist watch lists used for government screening procedures.

The Justice Department's inspector general noted in a report last month that the FBI had made improvement in its IT management controls and practices.

Former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, who led the National Academy of Public Administration's panel on the FBI transformation, said at the September hearing that IT support needed to be seen as an increased priority within the agency.

"Information technology support for administrative functions has been given a lower priority than that for FBI operational programs," he said in written testimony. "Increased attention to this area of IT support is necessary for improvement in the FBI's human capital programs."

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