A romantic notion in the recesses of my mind really loves the F.B.I., C.I.A., and the like. I like spy novels. I like James Bond. I like super heroes fighting super villans. However, the real world of federal investigative services is far different than the portrayal delivered through metaphor and myth.
I read today in the Washington Post “The F.B.I.’s Upgrade that Wasn’t.” A most unsettling account of the trials and tribulations of Trilogy and its critical component, Virtual Case File (VCF). The idea was to bring Roosevelt’s dream into the 21st century. Currently, the F.B.I. is still passing paper within the orgnization and doing an inefficent job at knowledge sharing. To share a photograph between offices, no secure vehicle exists to pass this data securely (in the organization’s eyes). As a result, a photo can be passed via fax or interoffice delivery. Highly ineffective in today’s modern culture. Now I realize that this must be one of the more embarrassing events in late F.B.I. history, but I just can’t help but to make a dig at this misues of technology by our government. Afterall, it was in part my tax dollars that helped to fund $170 million worth of failure. In the end, they asked independant auditors to review the progress of VCF. In summary, consultants remarked that VCF was a total loss. The F.B.I. had planed on implementing the system with little testing and no back-out plan. The independant consultants advised heavily against this plan and said that a failure in the system, which was inevitable, would result in the bungling of case work.
‘”That was a little bit horrifying,” said Matt Blaze, a professor of computer science at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the review team. “A bunch of us were planning on committing a crime spree the day they switched over. If the new system didn’t work, it would have just put the FBI out of business.”‘
Zalmai Azmi, chief technology officer, reported in the end that VCF was a total loss. Unfortunatley for the F.B.I. (and the tax payers), major costs had already been incurred despite the multiple opportunities to cut losses earlier in the projects doomed life. Today, the F.B.I.’s case file handling is still handled the same way it was in the late 70’s and 80’s; paper and filing cabinents. Sharing data is highly ineffectual, but it’s performant in so much as it actually works – which is something VCF could not do. All is not lost if they’ve learned something from this egregious mistake. They’re certainly not using the same technology group, SAIC, for their development work. I’d be very surprised if they didn’t go after them for recovered costs or damages. They’re spending a hellaload more money to solve their development issues before, though I suspect that will do little to solve anything.
Last year, FBI officials announced a replacement for VCF, named Sentinel, that is projected to cost $425 million and will not be fully operational until 2009.
I mean, holy crap!!! You drop the ball on a huge project and lose $170 million. Then they give you $255 million more to try again?!? Now I see why there’s so much tax fraud and political polarity around government spending.
I’m still working out ideas to bring law enforcement and investigative services to the private sector. There’s no money in civil services as an employee, yet it’s in all of our best interest. I think RoboCop was the key, really.