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Information Technology: FBI Following a Number of Key Acquisition Practices on New Case Management System but Improvements Still Needed

GAO-07-912 Published: Jul 31, 2007. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2007.
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The Sentinel program is intended to replace and expand on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) failed Virtual Case File (VCF) project and thereby meet the bureau's pressing need for a modern, automated capability to support its field agents and intelligence analysts' investigative case management and information sharing requirements. Because of the FBI's experience with VCF and the importance of Sentinel to the bureau's mission operations, GAO was asked to conduct a series of reviews on the FBI's management of Sentinel. This review focuses on the FBI's (1) use of effective practices for acquiring Sentinel and (2) basis for reliably estimating Sentinel's schedule and costs. To address its objectives, GAO researched relevant best practices, reviewed FBI policies and procedures, program plans and other program documents, and interviewed appropriate program officials.


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Federal Bureau of Investigation To strengthen the FBI's management of its Sentinel program, the FBI Director should instruct the bureau's CIO to work with Sentinel support contractors, where feasible, to establish and implement performance standards in statements of work relative to the quality and timeliness of products and the performance of services.
Closed – Not Implemented
In its comments on the draft of this report, FBI did not concur with this recommendation, stating that the Sentinel's program management office provides sufficient government oversight of its support contractors. Moreover, in August 2011, FBI officials identified changes to the program that, in their view, make this recommendation no longer relevant. They stated that the Sentinel program is now being developed largely by an in-house team under direct management of senior officials. This approach meant a shift away from the support contractors and contract vehicles in use at the time of our report and towards FBI staff. They also reported that FBI IT management is monitoring the quality and timeliness of Sentinel products and the performance of services for Sentinel's work products using a statement of objectives for the internal team and a Project Baseline Agreement. Nevertheless, FBI continues to use support contractors in its Sentinel program office and has not provided evidence that it has established performance standards for their statements of work. As a result, FBI has not demonstrated implementation of this recommendation.
Federal Bureau of Investigation To strengthen the FBI's management of its Sentinel program, the FBI Director should instruct the bureau's CIO to revise the IT handbook and related guidance to address schedule and cost estimating best practices that are identified in this report as not being addressed in FBI policies and procedures and ensure that these best practices are fully employed on all major IT programs, including Sentinel.
Closed – Implemented
In commenting on the draft of this report, FBI agreed with this recommendation, and has subsequently taken actions to implement it. For example, the bureau updated its IT program guidance (the Project Management Handbook) in September 2008 to require that IT programs follow leading cost and schedule estimating practices, including those described in GAO's Cost Assessment Guide. The handbook now describes the four characteristics of a high-quality and reliable cost estimate (comprehensive, well-documented, accurate, and credible). In addition, the handbook now describes leading practices associated with effective schedule estimating, including capturing key activities, assigning resources to the activities, establishing their critical path, and integrating the activities horizontally and vertically. Furthermore, the handbook states that the Office of IT Program Management has established an historical/lessons learned database with critical information from other projects and programs that should be used for comparison purposes when creating schedule and cost estimates. We could not verify whether these practices for cost and schedule estimation were fully employed on individual programs. Nevertheless, we consider this recommendation largely implemented based on the direction and guidance established in the handbook.

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Agency missionsBest practicesContract oversightContract performanceFederal procurementInformation infrastructureInformation managementInformation systemsInformation systems investmentsInformation technologyInternal controlsMonitoringProgram evaluationProgram managementRisk managementStandardsPerformance measuresCost estimatesPolicies and procedures