(CNN) -- A top FBI official said Thursday the bureau
may have to scrap a computer program that so far has
cost $170 million and was intended to be an important
tool in fighting terrorism.
Bureau officials told a
news briefing that they expect to find that after four
years in development their much-touted Virtual Case
File system does not work. But they said a suitable
replacement is commercially available.
The officials spoke on
condition of anonymity because the project is being
reviewed by the Justice Department, The Associated
FBI Director Robert
Mueller, who was in Birmingham, Alabama, Thursday,
said he was "frustrated by the delays."
"I am frustrated
that we do not have on every agent's desk the
capability of a modern case management system,"
"At the same time,
we have made substantial changes in the way we handle
information information technology within the
Sen. Patrick Leahy of
Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary
Committee, called the program "a train wreck in
Leahy noted that the FBI
said last May the Virtual Case File system would be
completed by the end of 2004.
"Now we learn that
the FBI began to explore new options last August,
because it feared that VCF was going to fail,"
Leahy said in a press release.
"Bringing the FBI's
information technology into the 21st century should
not be rocket science."
He said that getting
straight answers from the Justice Department and the
FBI "has been so difficult that we had to take
the step of asking for an independent investigation by
the Government Accountability Office."
Since the terrorist
attacks of September 11, 2001, the FBI and contractor
Science Applications International Corp. have been
racing to complete the project, which is intended to
speed the rapid sharing of information.
"It's like changing
the wheels on a car going 70 miles an hour," the
senior FBI official told reporters. "We're
mission-oriented. We have no down time."
The official acknowledged
the seriousness of the flaws, but insisted the
problems have had no major impact on the FBI's
"All the information
is getting there. It's just that we're doing it the
hard way," the official said.
information collected by agents through interviews and
surveillance currently becomes available only after it
is uploaded nightly into a system accessible to the
nation's intelligence community.
The current program
requires FBI personnel to manually enter, print, sign
and scan their information into the
"investigative data warehouse."
information collected by agents gets top priority and
is entered into the system within 24 hours.
Information dealing with
such matters as violent crime, organized crime, fraud
and other white-collar crime may take days to be
shared throughout the law enforcement community, the
The new software program
was supposed to allow agents to pass along along
intelligence and criminal information in real time.
The FBI expects to learn
within weeks whether it will have to scrap the system,
a scenario the officials said was likely.
Before making that
decision, the FBI is awaiting a final report by an
independent consultant, Aerospace Corp., hired to
review the state of the the software project and
analyze what is available commercially.
FBI officials indicated
they expect to get the consultant's conclusion by the
end of the month. They predicted that at least $130
million of the $170 million project could be lost.
Meanwhile, the FBI's New
Orleans field office has launched a three-month pilot
project to determine whether about 10 percent of the
Virtual Case File system development can be salvaged.
The office will run a
prototype of the system that SAIC delivered to the FBI
in December after missing previous deadlines.
"We delivered the
initial operational capability of the FBI's virtual
case file system as contractually agreed upon, at the
end of December," said SAIC spokesman Jared
The senior FBI official
said he would withhold a verdict on whether any
portion of the software could be incorporated into a
successor system until the trial's conclusion.
Top FBI officials cited a
wide range of reasons for the software-development
The rapidly changing
state of technology was insufficiently understood, and
an entire system was developed to replace the
antiquated FBI computer and record management systems.
One official said that
"next time" the FBI would seek a modular
system in which capabilities can be added or changed
to the existing structure.
The FBI said the changed
mission of the bureau following the September 11
attacks added a burden to the case-file system
developers, who launched the complex project upgrade
FBI officials say they
are awaiting a review on the status of the agency's
major technology projects, which together are costing
more than $500 million.
The GAO, the
investigative arm of Congress, is working on a broad
review of the FBI technology upgrades, including the
Key FBI officials were
scheduled to meet Thursday with the Justice Department
inspector general and separately with lawmakers to
discuss the developments.