By Deborah Gage Print this article Print

The federal agency stumbled in its attempt to trade a paper-based filing system for an electronic one. Experts offer tips on how the agency can regain its balance.

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Hurdle No. 4

Details about Trilogy's failure are leaked to the media and become national news. Mueller is summoned before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee to explain. Senators demand to know A) what happened and b) why reporters found out before they did.

The fix: Soften the shock of the bad news by having a plausible plan to fix the problems. Make sure project sponsors—in this case, Congress—are kept well informed of developments.

Several months before the latest round of problems with Trilogy became public, the FBI was working in private to try to fix them. Even though some senators felt the FBI had misled them, Mueller was able to show that the bureau had made progress in addressing the problems.

In May 2004, after Mueller appointed Azmi as CIO, the FBI renegotiated its contract with SAIC and created a new, two-phase plan for Trilogy. The first, tested in two FBI field offices from January through March, was to determine whether the FBI can use code developed for the Virtual Case File—about 10% of the original application—to handle electronic workflow and document approval. For the second, the agency will decide whether to salvage the rest of the code or dump it and start over with packaged software. SAIC also could be dumped. A contract for that phase is supposed to be signed by April 30.

The Justice Department, the FBI's parent agency, may have given the FBI some breathing room by fending off Congress and the public so the bureau could figure out what to do.

Sen. Leahy claimed that for eight months, starting in May 2004, the FBI kept senators in the dark by refusing to answer their questions about Trilogy's progress. Not so, replied Mueller—he did answer the senators' questions, but he had to get his answers approved by the Justice Department, which didn't respond. The department declined to comment, referring questions on Trilogy to the FBI.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 9, 2004, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security announced they were holding an "Industry Day." The event would be closed to the press and public, but open to parties who filed a request for information on a new Federal Investigative Case Management System. Plans call for the system to be based on open standards and to "promote common solutions for case management" across the federal government, a press release said. No mention was made of the FBI, although the bureau is in charge of talking to vendors about the case management system and is the agency awarding the contract, according to Fine, the Justice Department's Inspector General.

Indeed, FICMS is an integral part of the FBI's new technology plan, a "framework" to ensure that the FBI, Justice and Homeland Security all have consistent case management systems, Fine adds.

Williams, the former agent, says the problem with the FBI is that it is so busy, doing a technology project there is like "chang[ing] the tire on a moving car." But Mueller hopes to finish some version of Trilogy in about 39 months. "The ability to assemble, analyze and disseminate information internally and to other agencies is essential to the war on terrorism, and modernization is a priority," he told the House subcommittee. "We work daily on the [Virtual Case File] issue and intend to develop and implement a state-of-the-art case management system."

This article was originally published on 2005-04-06
Senior Writer
Based in Silicon Valley, Debbie was a founding member of Ziff Davis Media's Sm@rt Partner, where she developed investigative projects and wrote a column on start-ups. She has covered the high-tech industry since 1994 and has also worked for Minnesota Public Radio, covering state politics. She has written freelance op-ed pieces on public education for the San Jose Mercury News, and has also won several national awards for her work co-producing a documentary. She has a B.A. from Minnesota State University.

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