FBI: Computer upgrade cost still unknown

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 Posted: 3:42 PM EDT (1942 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- FBI Director Robert Mueller told lawmakers Tuesday he still doesn't know how much it will cost to complete the bureau's computer overhaul, already well over budget and behind schedule.

He also refused to state publicly the cost of the initial phase of the Sentinel system, the planned successor to a failed project that was supposed to greatly improve management of terrorism and other criminal cases.

"There are certain sensitivities involved," Mueller told the Senate Appropriations Committee's Commerce, Justice and Science subcommittee, explaining that the FBI soon would invite contractors to compete for the work.

The FBI has yet to estimate Sentinel's total cost, he said.

The explanation did little to mollify skeptical senators who have severely criticized the FBI's computer problems.

"I'd suggest stonewalling the staff up here is not the way to do it," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

Mueller had said a cost estimate would be ready in early spring for a new system to replace the Virtual Case File, which has cost taxpayers more than $100 million. Virtual Case File was to have been the final piece of the FBI's upgrade of its antiquated computer system, an instantaneous and paperless way for agents and analysts to manage all types of investigations.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Mueller made improvement of the agency's computer systems a priority. Members of Congress and the independent Sept. 11 commission said the overhaul was critical to enabling the FBI and intelligence agencies to "connect the dots" in preventing attacks.

The first two phases of the "Trilogy" project -- deployment of a high-speed, secure FBI computer network and 30,000 new desktop computers -- have been completed.

But the upgrade already is 2 1/2 years behind schedule and, at nearly $600 million, more than 25 percent over its initial budget. The Sentinel system will not be done until at least 2008, Mueller has said.