Watching Sentinal

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s draft of the fiscal 2007 spending bill, HR 5672, that covers the Justice Department and the FBI, includes both legal requirements limiting the bureau’s freedom in managing its biggest software project, and tart report language criticizing the bureau’s IT performance and slow response to congressional information requests. Many of the new restrictions apply to the Sentinel project, the bureau’s new investigative case management system project:

  • The bureau would have to receive Government Accountability Office certification that the FBI has established a performance measurement system before proceeding with Sentinel.
  • The bureau could not proceed to a later phase until it has reached a 70 percent completion rate on the current phase and the estimated cost to complete the current phase does not exceed 35 percent of the phase’s remaining budget.
  • The bureau would be directed to use a performance-based management system that complies with the American National Standards Institute-Electronic Industries Alliance Standard 748-A, as required by the Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-11 to measure achievement of the cost, schedule and performance goals.
  • The FBI must establish plans for each phase that include carefully defined capabilities; finite, measurable and manageable work elements limited to four months’ duration; starting and completion dates; and project costs.
  • The Justice Department’s Investment Review Board would oversee the development of all critical IT infrastructure acquisitions and improvements.

All well and good, but documentation doesn’t ensure success and layering more overhead on an already taxed workforce isn’t a smart solution either.

A better idea would be to focus on the second-to-last bullet: limit the size and funding of all future projects. Eliminate scope-creep and minimize the opportunity for fraud and confusion and you will see success more often than you would with these mondo projects. By all means craft your strategy and outline your path to the future; just don’t award one contract for it. Call it the “firefox extension” approach to a better IT infrastructure.

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