Ex-IBM executive leads FBI technology overhaul

During Wednesday's House Appropriations subcommittee hearing examining the FBI's reorganization effort, bureau Director Robert Mueller's technology expert will sit right behind him poised to offer advice on any questions about the FBI's information technology overhaul.

Wilson Lowery, a former IBM executive who came to the FBI in July 2002 because he "wanted to do something to help" after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has been implementing the largest IT reengineering effort in the agency's history, including linking 22,000 agency computers into a single network.

"This has been the best year of my life. True statement," Lowery said in an interview last week with National Journal Group reporters. Lowery retired from IBM in 1989 after 30 years at the company, most recently as head of IBM's credit division. But after the terrorist attacks, he emerged from retirement at the request of Mueller, who assured him that changing the FBI's technology systems was a top priority.

"He said, 'If we don't change the way this organization operates and reengineer it from top to bottom, there will be no FBI as we know it today,' " Lowery recounted Mueller saying last April. At the time, many FBI agents had no access to laptop computers and were not connected to each other or to the main office in Washington.

After Lowery joined the FBI in July 2002, he implemented 40 reengineering projects, including an update of the Trilogy program-the FBI's $595 million computer upgrade.

Even before Lowery joined the FBI, Mueller had identified existing problems with the software interface application that was to be implemented in Trilogy. Mueller scrapped that application and restarted with a new one called the "virtual case file."

Lowery said his team then realized that Trilogy needed better encryption and a satellite backup system to ensure that the computer network would run in the event of a disruption, and that the FBI had created 66 regional joint ant-terrorism task forces that needed to be added to the network.

The extra costs resulted in the Trilogy program overrunning its congressionally authorized budget by $138 million, causing criticism by some lawmakers earlier this year.

"A cost overrun is technically not [a] true" way to characterize the price tag of Trilogy, Lowery said. "It is true that it is costing that amount of money more, but we are getting a lot more for it, which includes more locations, more capabilities and a total redesign of the software package."

The initial implementation of the Trilogy network was completed as of March 28, and a central network-operations center is almost complete. The virtual case file, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year, enables agents and analysts to input data into computers and then provides analytical tools.

Lowery said Mueller will outline these successes at the Wednesday hearing and that the National Academy of Public Administration, which has an ongoing study on the success of the FBI's reorganization, is expected to provide a favorable report on the agency's progress.