Journalism in the Public Interest


Report: Fixing FBI’s Computer System Will Cost More, Take Longer

In a report released Wednesday, the Office of the Inspector General expressed "serious concerns" about the progress of the FBI's project to overhaul its archaic computer system. It reported that the project would take at least nine months longer--and cost at least $26 million more--than originally planned.

Last month, the FBI ordered that some work be temporarily halted on the project because of problems. While the delay frustrated lawmakers, the FBI said the problems were minor and "had not compromised agents' ability to respond to threats."

The project is now projected to cost $451 million and take until 2011, according to the new report. The FBI's computer system has long been considered out of date, and the effort to overhaul it has failed once before with a different contractor, wasting more than $100 million. The FBI wants a new system to create a way to process, store and manage its investigative records, which are currently paper-based. From The New York Times:

In a paper-driven culture, the agency’s computers were so inadequate that many agents until several years ago could not send or receive e-mail messages, and had difficulty getting case histories and linking to other databases. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, agents in Florida had to send photographs of the hijackers by overnight mail to Washington because they could not send e-mail attachments.

More recently, events such as the Christmas Day bomb plot again underscored the need for intelligence agencies to be able to easily access, update and share existing data in order to "connect the dots" and head off immediate threats to national security.

Lockheed Martin, the nation's largest defense contractor, is primarily responsible for the overhaul, carrying a $305 million contract with the FBI. The company has recently been in the news for being hired to do nation-building in Africa by training Liberian prosecutors--a broader, more political role than the contractor has thus far played, according to The Wall Street Journal. Lockheed consistently spends millions each year lobbying the federal government on weapons spending and information technology.

Norman Morley

April 1, 2010, 5:29 p.m.

This story is so old, that I can remember when they started using computers and I’m 71 years old. It seems that this is a continuing exercise that the F.B.I. goes through on a regular basis. They always have some excuse why they can’t coordinate with each other, old equipment, wrong software, obsolete anything & everything, yet they still use the same contractors, who still provide junk hard/software, way way over budget & time. In fact, after spending $Billions of taxpayer money, they come back for more. They talk of planned obsolescence, but the systems sold to the F.B.I. are already that. Now, I suppose only an old man like myself would remember stuff like this, probably because I use a computer which is over 10 years old, but is still running, up to the tasks I put to it, which isn’t saying much, but none the less, if our Congress hadn’t sold the American People out to the special interest, the hiring of private contractors & patronage in every department, even marginalizing the career civil servants, or to put it another way, stupidity employment, the country would be in better shape. But, I venture off the course here, sounding more like a rant, then just a 4 letter comment about another F.B.I. computer fiasco.

If I’m not mistaken, the FBI was in the process of upgrading when 9/11 hit.  Within a few months, their mandate had changed from law enforcement to counterterrorism, changing the requirements for the system.  Ultimately, that whole project fell apart.

For the money they have spent, I wonder why they couldn’t have just purchased some off-the-shelf technology:  their own servers, their own LAN, their own crypto systems for when they need to send sensitive messages via public Internet channels.  Surely they would have a workable system by now?  And, it would be modular, they could upgrade it as they needed to.

Norman, I think your comments are right on the money.  I don’t think they qualify as a rant, but if they do, so much the better:  the way that gang in Washington wastes money and gives it away, and sends us the IOU, it’s worth a good rant.

political atheist

April 8, 2010, 2:35 p.m.

It is pretty stunning, isn’t it? Using the same crappy contractors hoping for a different result is, by definition, insanity. But then again, the issue is really about special interest bribery, oops, I mean lobbying.

That said, I guess this sheer incompetence and stupidity in our government will make it that much harder for the federal government to monitor the citizens’ actions.

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