By Andrew Zajac Washington Bureau
Clobbered by a three-day wave of bad publicity about its bungled efforts to update its technology systems, the FBI on Wednesday attempted to rebut allegations about the costs of straightening out the agency's computer woes.
But even after the bureau's top technology executive detailed progress made in overhauling the cyber-operations, what stood out was the magnitude of what remains undone: A fully functioning computer system remains about four years and unknown hundreds of millions of dollars into the future.
"What we don't have is an efficient way of working with our information," said Zalmai Azmi, the agency's chief information officer. "What I mean by that is that we're still paper-based."
Still, Azmi said, "We're not missing anything in terms of capability, except for efficiency."
Azmi emphasized that the bureau has assembled information for terrorism investigations into a database that can be shared by agents and analysts.
In addition, Azmi said the bureau's $500 million-plus Trilogy upgrade, including improved links with other agencies, and installation of60,000 new computers is "80 percent done."
Azmi disputed a House Appropriations Committee report released earlier this week alleging that the FBI withheld information on 400 glitches in a contractor's case management software, thus squandering its chances to cut its losses by killing the project sooner than it did, in March.
Azmi said the contractor, San Diego-based SAIC Corp., worked with the bureau to uncover the bugs in the Virtual Case File system. A company spokesman declined to comment about its performance in developing the system.
The case file program was developed over a four-year period at a cost of at least $104 million.
Azmi also disputed an account in U.S. News and World Report, published Wednesday, that a new case-management system would cost nearly $800 million.
But he declined to offer his own estimate of how much a case-management system would cost because he said it might lead prospective contractors to inflate their bids.
Azmi said the FBI would take bids on a new case-management program, dubbed Sentinel, this summer. Work on it should start by the end of the year and should be complete in slightly less than four years, he said.
In an effort to avoid mistakes made with Virtual Case File, Sentinel will be built in four parts, so it can be debugged in stages and assembled more quickly. Developers will use off-the-shelf products as much as possible to reduce cost and complexity, and an experienced project manager, Miodrag Lazarevich, recruited from the CIA, will oversee Sentinel, Azmi said.
Copyright 2005 Chicago Tribune
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