Stop me if this sounds familiar: A government agency taps a major contractor to lead a complicated technical project. The parties agree on terms, budget, and timeframe. Things look great, promises are made, and big things are expected. In just a few years the project will revolutionize how said government agency goes about its business.
And then the Inspector General starts writing reports.
This time the agency is the FBI, the contractor is Lockheed Martin, the IG comes from the Department of Justice, and the project in question is called Sentinel, the Bureau’s troubled second attempt at developing a new electronic (billed as paperless) information and investigative case management system. Back in March 2006, the plan was that Sentinel would be developed in four phases for $425 million, and be completed around December 2009. But in the four and a half years since those hopeful days, the FBI has issued a full stop-work order to Lockheed Martin Services Incorporated for portions of Sentinel’s Phase 3 and all of the project’s Phase 4 “because of significant issues regarding performance, usability, and quality of work delivered by Lockheed Martin,” according to a new Department of Justice IG report. (PDF)
This all comes at the close of almost a decade’s worth of failed attempts by the FBI to move from a paper-based case management system to an electronic one--a journey that has cost over half a billion dollars and yielded almost no gains. The first attempt was the $170 million failure known as the Virtual Case File system, which staggered along from 2001-2005 before being canceled. Then in 2006 came Sentinel, which started with a $305 million contract with Lockheed as the first part of a $425 million project, later revised to $451 million, and which the IG writes is on track to being “$100 million over budget and 2 years behind schedule.”
-- In December 2009, the FBI conditionally accepted delivery of Sentinel’s Phase 2, Segment 4, “despite knowing that what was delivered had serious performance and usability issues and had received overwhelmingly negative user feedback during testing with FBI agents and analysts. As a result, the FBI did not deploy Segment 4 to the FBI’s agents and analysts when it conditionally accepted it.”
-- In July 2010, the Bureau deployed Phase 2 of Sentinel to its agents and analysts. It was supposed to generate 18 different electronic forms, but could only mange four--and even then FBI employees “must still print the forms to obtain approval signatures, and they must maintain hard copy files with the required approval signatures.”
-- Also in July of this year the FBI asked Mitre to conduct an independent assessment of the program. The result? “Mitre estimated that completing Sentinel under the FBI’s current development approach would, at a minimum, cost an additional $351 million and take an additional 6 years.”
The FBI told the IG that they have plans to take over the program and push Lockheed aside. In a statement, FBI Associate Deputy Director Thomas J. Harrington said that the Bureau is going with an “agile development” methodology that “will reduce our reliance on traditional contractors and allow for cost-savings by dealing directly with product experts.” The IG isn’t so sure about all that though, writing that the plan “is still evolving, and is not yet fully developed or officially approved.” It also “raises significant concerns and questions about the FBI’s planned approach, including ones relating to the cost, schedule, and amount of work to complete Sentinel ... the FBI has little experience using this new development methodology.”
But hey, why not start spitballing new ideas after you’ve spent almost $600 million for a paperless system that still requires signatures, demands hard copies and has proven almost useless as a case management tool?