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[infowar.de] wie SAIC dem FBI den Schritt ins Computerzeitalter versaute
...und dabei 170 Millionen Dollar verdiente.
Jetzt soll Lockheed Martin ran und kriegt dafür gleich 425 Millionen
Dollar. Beide Firmen sind übrigens auch unter den größten Zulieferern fürs
The FBI's Upgrade That Wasn't
$170 Million Bought an Unusable Computer System
By Dan Eggen and Griff Witte
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 18, 2006; A01
As far as Zalmai Azmi was concerned, the FBI's technological revolution
was only weeks away.
It was late 2003, and a contractor, Science Applications International
Corp. (SAIC), had spent months writing 730,000 lines of computer code for
the Virtual Case File (VCF), a networked system for tracking criminal
cases that was designed to replace the bureau's antiquated paper files
and, finally, shove J. Edgar Hoover's FBI into the 21st century.
It appeared to work beautifully. Until Azmi, now the FBI's technology
chief, asked about the error rate.
Software problem reports, or SPRs, numbered in the hundreds, Azmi recalled
in an interview. The problems were multiplying as engineers continued to
run tests. Scores of basic functions had yet to be analyzed.
"A month before delivery, you don't have SPRs," Azmi said. "You're making
things pretty. . . . You're changing colors."
Within a few days, Azmi said, he warned FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III
that the $170 million system was in serious trouble. A year later, it was
dead. The nation's premier law enforcement and counterterrorism agency,
burdened with one of the government's most archaic computer systems, would
have to start from scratch.
The collapse of the attempt to remake the FBI's filing system stemmed from
failures of almost every kind, including poor conception and muddled
execution of the steps needed to make the system work, according to
outside reviews and interviews with people involved in the project.
But the problems were not the FBI's alone. Because of an open-ended
contract with few safeguards, SAIC reaped more than $100 million as the
project became bigger and more complicated, even though its software never
worked properly. The company continued to meet the bureau's requests,
accepting payments despite clear signs that the FBI's approach to the
project was badly flawed, according to people who were involved in the
project or later reviewed it for the government.
Lawmakers and experts have faulted the FBI for its part in the failed
project. But less attention has been paid to the role that the contractor
played in contributing to the problems. A previously unreleased audit --
completed in 2005 and obtained by The Washington Post -- found that the
system delivered by SAIC was so incomplete and unusable that it left the
FBI with little choice but to scuttle the effort altogether.
David Kay, a former SAIC senior vice president who did not work on the
program but closely watched its development, said the company knew the
FBI's plans were going awry but did not insist on changes because the
bureau continued to pay the bills as the work piled up.
"SAIC was at fault because of the usual contractor reluctance to tell the
customer, 'You're screwed up. You don't know what you're doing. This
project is going to fail because you're not managing your side of the
equation,' " said Kay, who later became the chief U.S. weapons inspector
in Iraq. "There was no one to tell the government that they were asking
the impossible. And they weren't going to get the impossible."
Mueller's inability to successfully implement VCF marks one of the low
points of his nearly five-year tenure as FBI director, and he has accepted
some of the blame. "I did not do the things I should have done to make
sure that was a success," he told reporters last month.
SAIC declined three requests for comment. The company told Congress last
year that it tried to warn the FBI that its "trial and error" approach to
the project would not work, but it said it may not have been forceful
enough with the bureau.
Whoever is at fault, five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks and more than $600 million later, agents still rely largely on the
paper reports and file cabinets used since federal agents began chasing
gangsters in the 1920s.
Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI had developed a plan, Trilogy,
to address its chronic technology problems. The program was made up of
three main components: a new computer network, thousands of new personal
computer stations and, at its heart, the software system that would come
to be known as VCF.
The FBI wanted its agents to work in a largely paperless environment, able
to search files, pull up photos and scan for information at their own PCs.
The old system was based on fusty mainframe technology, with a text-only
"green screen" that had to be searched by keywords and could not store or
display graphics, photos or scanned copies of reports.
What's more, most employees had no PCs. They relied instead on shared
computers for access to the Internet and e-mail. A type of memo called an
electronic communication had to be printed out on paper and signed by a
supervisor before it was sent. Uploading a single document took 12 steps.
The setup was so cumbersome that many agents stopped using it, preferring
to rely on paper and secretaries. Technologically, the FBI was trapped in
the 1980s, if not earlier.
"Getting information into or out of the system is a challenge," said Greg
Gandolfo, who spent most of his 18-year FBI career investigating financial
crimes and public corruption cases in Chicago, Little Rock and Los
Angeles. "It's not like 'Here it is, click' and it's in there. It takes a
whole series of steps and screens to go through."
Gandolfo, who now heads a unit at FBI headquarters that fields computer
complaints, said the biggest drawback is the amount of time it takes to
handle paperwork and input data. "From the case agent's point of view, you
want to be freed up to do the casework, to do the investigations, to do
the intelligence," he said.
At the start, the software project had relatively modest goals -- and much
lower costs. When SAIC beat out four competitors to win the contract in
June 2001, the company said it would be earning $14 million in the first
year of a three-year deal to update the FBI's case-management system.
For SAIC, the contract was relatively minor. The firm, owned by 40,000
employee shareholders, is one of the nation's largest government
contractors. The 2001 attacks were a boon to its fortunes, helping to
boost its annual revenue, now more than $7 billion.
At the FBI, the impact of the attacks was equally significant but
certainly less auspicious. As revelations emerged that the bureau had
missed clues that could have revealed the plot, its image suffered. Its
long-outdated information technology systems drew particular scrutiny.
"Prior to 9/11, the FBI did not have an adequate ability to know what it
knew," a report by the staff of the Sept. 11 commission concluded. "The
FBI's primary information management system, designed using 1980s
technology already obsolete when installed in 1995, limited the Bureau's
ability to share its information internally and externally."
The problems continued to hamper the bureau after the attacks as well: To
transmit photographs of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers and other suspects to
field offices, headquarters had to fax copies or send compact discs by
mail, because the system would not allow them to e-mail a photo securely.
In the months after the terrorist attacks, overhauling the case-management
system became one of the bureau's top priorities. Deadlines were moved up,
requirements grew, and costs ballooned.
Along the way, the FBI made a fateful choice: It wanted SAIC to build the
new software system from scratch rather than modifying commercially
available, off-the-shelf software. Later, the company would say the FBI
made that decision independently; FBI officials countered that SAIC pushed
them into it.
More than two years after Sept. 11, when a team of researchers from the
National Research Council showed up to review the status of Trilogy, FBI
officials assured them that the bureau had made great strides. That was
true in part: By early 2004, two of the three main pillars of the program
-- thousands of new PCs and an integrated hardware network -- were well on
the way to being delivered and installed.
But, as the researchers soon learned, the heart of the makeover, VCF,
remained badly off track. In its final report, in May 2004, the NRC team
warned that the program was "currently not on a path to success."
The review team from the NRC, which is affiliated with the National
Academy of Sciences, was made up of more than a dozen scientists and
engineers from top universities and leading technology companies, all of
them independent of the FBI and its contractors.
The report observed that the rollout of the new case-management software
had been poorly planned nearly from the beginning. Months after the
program was supposed to be complete, it remained riddled with shortcomings:
· Agents would not be able to take copies of their cases into the field
· The program lacked common features, such as bookmarking or histories,
that would help agents navigate through millions of files.
· The system could not properly sort data.
· Most important, the FBI planned to launch the new software all at once,
with minimal testing beforehand. Doing so, the NRC team concluded, could
cause "mission-disruptive failures" if the software did not work, because
the FBI had no backup plan.
"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."
The NRC team found plenty of blame to go around, starting with the FBI itself.
Like many government agencies, the bureau had been drained of much of its
top talent as skilled managers left for the higher salaries and reduced
bureaucracy of the private sector. By 2001, when the VCF program was born,
the FBI had few people in house with the expertise to develop the kind of
sophisticated information technology systems that it would need. As a
result, the agency had been turning increasingly to private contractors
for help, a process that only hastened the flow of talent out the door at
"In essence, the FBI has left the task of defining and identifying its
essential operational processes and its IT concept of operations to
outsiders," the NRC researchers concluded. "The FBI lacks experienced IT
program managers and contract managers, which has made it unable to deal
aggressively or effectively with its contractors."
Daniel Guttman, a fellow at Johns Hopkins University who specializes in
government contracting law, said: "This case just shows the government
doesn't have a clue. Yet the legal fiction is that the government knows
what it's doing and is capable of taking charge. The contractors are
taking advantage of that legal fiction."
In the end, the FBI's failure to police the contractors would lead to
After the disappointing preview of VCF in late 2003 by Azmi, who was then
an adviser to Mueller tasked with reviewing the system, the FBI scrambled
to rescue the project. The Aerospace Corp., a federally funded
research-and-development firm in El Segundo, Calif., was hired for $2
million in June 2004 to review the program and come up with a "corrective
The conclusion: SAIC had so badly bungled the project that it should be
In a 318-page report, completed in January 2005 and obtained by The Post
under the Freedom of Information Act, Aerospace said the SAIC software was
incomplete, inadequate and so poorly designed that it would be essentially
unusable under real-world conditions. Even in rudimentary tests, the
system did not comply with basic requirements, the report said. It did not
include network-management or archiving systems -- a failing that would
put crucial law enforcement and national security data at risk, according
to the report.
"From the documents that define the system at the highest level, down
through the software design and into the source code itself, Aerospace
discovered evidence of incompleteness, lack of follow-through, failure to
optimize and missing documentation," the report said.
Others joined Aerospace in highlighting SAIC's role in the failure. The
NRC report complains that the contractor dealt with Trilogy as a "business
as usual" program, without regard to its importance to national security.
Matthew Patton, a programmer who worked on the contract for SAIC, said the
company seemed to make no attempts to control costs. It kept 200
programmers on staff doing "make work," he said, when a couple of dozen
would have been enough. The company's attitude was that "it's other
people's money, so they'll burn it every which way they want to," he said.
Patton, a specialist in IT security, became nervous at one point that the
project did not have sufficient safeguards. But he said his bosses had
little interest. "Would the product actually work? Would it help agents do
their jobs? I don't think anyone on the SAIC side cared about that," said
Patton, who was removed from the project after three months when he posted
his concerns online.
Azmi said that "in terms of having a lot of money, we were just coming out
of 9/11, and at that time there was a lot of pressure on the FBI to
develop capabilities for storing information and actually, for lack of
better words, connecting the dots. If SAIC took advantage of that, I would
say shame on them."
Mueller has also criticized SAIC, telling Congress that the software it
produced "was not what it should be in order to make it the effective tool
for the FBI, and it requires us now to go a different route."
One FBI manager estimated that the scope of the Trilogy project as a whole
expanded by 80 percent since it began, according to a February 2005 report
by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.
SAIC has consistently said that it was trying to meet the FBI's needs but
that its efforts were undermined by the bureau's chronic indecision.
Executive Vice President Arnold Punaro submitted testimony to Congress in
February 2005 citing 19 government personnel changes in three years that
kept the program's direction in flux.
FBI officials, he said, took a "trial and error, 'we will know it when we
see it' approach to development." Punaro said the company warned bureau
officials that such a method would not work, but he acknowledged that SAIC
did not do enough to get the FBI's attention.
"We clearly failed to get the cumulative effect of these changes across to
the FBI consumer," he said.
Punaro also faulted Aerospace, saying that its study was based on an
earlier version of VCF software and that the firm "did not bring a
sufficient understanding of the uniqueness, complexity and scope of the
FBI undertaking to evaluate our product."
Starting Over, Again
By 2004, even as the news grew worse behind the scenes, FBI officials
struggled to put an optimistic spin on their software upgrade.
In March, testifying before a House subcommittee, Mueller said that the
FBI had experienced "a delay with the contractor" but that the problem had
been "righted." He said he expected that "the last piece of Virtual Case
File would be in by this summer."
Two months later, Azmi -- who had been named the bureau's chief
information officer -- pushed back the estimate further, predicting that
SAIC would deliver the product in December.
But the problems continued to mount. The FBI and SAIC feuded over change
orders, system requirements and other issues, according to an
investigative report later prepared for the House Appropriations
Committee. The FBI also went ahead with a $17 million testing program for
the system, one of many missed opportunities to cut its losses, according
to the House report.
Azmi defends the attempt to save VCF and calls the decision to abandon it
in early 2005 "probably the toughest" of his career.
The decision to kill VCF meant that the FBI's 30,000-plus employees,
including more than 12,000 special agents, had to continue to rely on an
"obsolete" information system that put them at "a severe disadvantage in
performing their duties," according to the report by Fine, of the Justice
"The urgent need within the FBI to create, organize, share and analyze
investigative leads and case files on an ongoing basis remains unmet,"
Fine's office concluded.
Maureen Baginski, the FBI's former executive assistant director of
intelligence, said the lack of a modern case-management system could hurt
the bureau when time is of the essence. Agents and analysts need the new
system, she said, to quickly make connections across cases -- especially
when they are tackling complex challenges such as unraveling a terrorist plot.
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. A temporary overlay version of the software, however, is
planned for launch next year.
The project's main contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., will be paid $305
million and will be required to meet benchmarks as the project proceeds.
FBI officials say Sentinel has survived three review sessions and is on
budget and on schedule.
SAIC is not involved. FBI officials say they are awaiting an audit by a
federal contracting agency before deciding whether to attempt to recoup
costs from the company.
In a follow-up to its reviews, Fine's office warned in March that the FBI
is at risk of repeating its mistakes with Sentinel because of management
turnover and weak financial controls. But Azmi and other FBI officials say
Sentinel is designed to be everything VCF was not, with specific
requirements, regular milestones and aggressive oversight.
Randolph Hite, who is reviewing the program for the Government
Accountability Office, said: "When you do a program like this, you need to
apply a level of rigor and discipline that's very high. That wasn't
inherent in VCF. My sense is that it is inherent in Sentinel."
But no one really knows how much longer the bureau can afford to wait.
"We had information that could have stopped 9/11," said Sen. Patrick J.
Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It
was sitting there and was not acted upon. . . . I haven't seen them
correct the problems. . . . We might be in the 22nd century before we get
the 21st-century technology."
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