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FBI blew $170m on doomed IT upgrade

'Virtual Case File' project finally ditched

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The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has finally conceded defeat in developing a crucial case management system called Virtual Case File. The system, by Science Applications International, was to be part of the Bureau's "Trilogy" modernization scheme, an urgent mandate since the 9/11 atrocities.

The system was intended to allow all FBI offices to search for and access case files and related documents, and to permit separate offices to collaborate on line. The Bureau's inability to organize information and share it among field offices has been cited as one reason why the 9/11 plot was not discovered in advance. There were clues, but no one was in a position to see enough of them to recognize their significance.

The Virtual Case File project has been plagued by cost overruns and delays since its inception. But the Bureau stuck with it, a process that US Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) described as "a slow-moving train wreck where no one had sense enough to apply the brake".

Approximately $170m of taxpayers' money has been sunk in the perpetually delayed, and now doomed, venture, out of nearly $600m allocated for technology upgrades. The Bureau concedes that the system is capable of only 10 per cent of its requirements, and cannot be salvaged, except perhaps for minor bits that might be recycled in a future replacement.

Unfortunately, the Bureau has blown its budget and will have to come crawling to Congress for the money it needs to start over from scratch. While there is no question that Congress will, in fact, authorize whatever funds the FBI needs, there is also no doubt that Director Robert Mueller and his top project managers will be forced to endure a lengthy and humiliating round of public excoriation, during which their intelligence and trustworthiness with public funds will be brought into question continually.

We can hardly wait. ®

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