FBI’s Failed $550M IT Project Cripples Investigations
Policy + Politics

FBI’s Failed $550M IT Project Cripples Investigations

The FBI has spent more than $550 million on an IT system that was supposed to improve the ability of agents to access case information. Instead, the system was so poorly built it’s become harder for them to do their jobs.

The FBI’s troubled new case filing system, Sentinel, has been the subject of at least 10 federal audits that have all found system-wide failures. Now the Department of Justice’s latest report paints an even more alarming picture of Sentinel, which is yet another federal IT project plagued with cost overruns and project delays. It was originally supposed to be completed at a cost of $425 million, but it’s $100 million over budget. And after all of that, it barely works.

Related: Typos Send FBI Agents After the Wrong Bad Guys

The IG said the biggest problem with Sentinel is its search function—which is obviously critically important to federal agents conducting investigations.

Several special agents told the auditors that "Sentinel returned either too many search results for users to reasonably review or no results at all for a document the user knew existed," IG officials said. The agents said, with the new system, they spend more time filling out database fields --such as the date of birth of a subject--to improve search results, which "leaves less time for investigative activities,” according to the report. Some said they preferred the old system to the $500 million Sentinel.

According to a survey by the IG, about 67 percent of FBI technicians (who spend the most time on the system) said, "Sentinel had a negative impact on their daily productivity." The auditors found that that just 42 percent FBI workers say they often receive the results they needed from the system.

Related: What is the FBI Hiding from Federal Investigators

In a response to the IG’s findings, the FBI said that the bureau is improving the system through "training, new algorithms, and other technological improvements to reduce the frequency of false positives and negatives among search results," according to the report. Officials added that they will be deploying Sentinel’s first update next month which should also improve its functionality.

This is the second FBI IT program that has come under scrutiny this year. In July,  the bureau’s new billion-dollar facial recognition system was having trouble accurately matching suspects photos. The report said Facebook’s recognition was far superior to the government’s system that is relied upon by federal agents to hunt down bad guys. 

The FBI isn’t alone. Failed or struggling IT projects are pretty common across the federal government…

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