An Inside Look At How FBI Computer Overhaul Went Awry


The collapse of the FBI’s effort to create a Virtual Case File system of computerized records “stemmed from failures of almost every kind, including poor conception and muddled execution of the steps needed to make the system work,” concludes a Washington Post investigation. An open-ended contract with few safeguards meant that contractor Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) reaped more than $100 million even though its software never worked properly. The company accepted payments despite clear signs that the FBI’s approach to the project was badly flawed.

The Post says that amid much criticism, relatively little attention has been paid to SAIC’s role in contributing to the problems. A former SAIC senior vice president 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. Says the official: “There was no one to tell the government that they were asking the impossible. And they weren’t going to get the impossible.” The bottom line: five years after Sept. 11, 2001 and more than $600 million later, agents still rely largely on the paper reports and file cabinets used since the feds began chasing gangsters in the 1920s.


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