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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... [continues]
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