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FBI Delays Computer-System Contract 112

Carl Bialik from the WSJ writes "The FBI postponed until 2006 the awarding of a huge computer-overhaul contract, gun-shy after a $170 million failed first effort, the Wall Street Journal reports: 'Much is riding on the project's success. Congress and other overseers pilloried the FBI for its reliance on paper records, forms and file cabinets. The FBI only last year completed the rollout of the Internet to its agents and analysts. And even though the bureau installed a computerized case-management system in the mid-1990s, it relied largely on aging, less-agile technology to do so. And it did little to eliminate the department's notorious number of paper forms -- currently numbering more than 1,000.'"
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FBI Delays Computer-System Contract

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  • remember (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TedCheshireAcad ( 311748 ) < .ta. .det.> on Saturday December 03, 2005 @05:38PM (#14175056) Homepage
    Government Pork: not just for defense contractors anymore!
  • by Eli Gottlieb ( 917758 ) <> on Saturday December 03, 2005 @05:47PM (#14175096) Homepage Journal
    Wait, I thought we WANTED them using yesterday's technology and losing efficiency to it? Remember, these are the folks who spy on our emails, who can perform searches without warrants nowadays... we want them at least two steps behind the citizenry.
  • huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by stonefoz ( 901011 ) on Saturday December 03, 2005 @05:52PM (#14175111)
    wasn't something put in with the patriot-act that dumped money in the fbi for a huge database overhall. something to enable crosschecks between agencies. if i'm not wrong, what else are they in need of updating?
    • Re:huh? (Score:5, Informative)

      by bdot2 ( 164812 ) on Saturday December 03, 2005 @06:18PM (#14175207)
      They spent over 105 million dollars on a software project called the "virtual case file" to support this. The project failed. IEEE Spectrum magazine has a long article that dissects the project in their September issue. Here is a link: []

      It is an interesting and sad story.
      • Re:huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tootlemonde ( 579170 )

        According the article, the FBI let its system stagnate and then tried to catch up all at once. The problem with this approach is that the legacy system continues to stagnate while the new one is under development. If there were any deficiencies in the new system or the new system fails altogether, the FBI is still stuck with the old system.

        One lesson is, don't let your system stagnate. It must be in a state of continual and regular upgrade. The side effect of this approach might be the main benefit: you wi

      • by msobkow ( 48369 )

        Reads like a classic project failure, with the classic failed project start: It was managed by someone who created "their own" database. i.e. A manager who thinks he knows better than the experts being hired, who overrides their estimates and recommendations, and who blows off any technical issues they raise because he "did it himself" in less time with an underpowered single-user tool.

        I've worked on three similar projects -- only one succeeded. The one success was because the manager in question got y

    • by ATeamMrT ( 935933 ) on Saturday December 03, 2005 @06:19PM (#14175209)
      wasn't something put in with the patriot-act that dumped money in the fbi for a huge database overhall. something to enable crosschecks between agencies. if i'm not wrong, what else are they in need of updating?

      We don't need to have every database cross checked. All we need is one FBI database for the dangerous criminals, the murderers and corporate criminals. Before long, states will check other states databases for minor criminal offenses. I'll give one example- try getting a job as a realtor. Arkansas will check their database to see if anyone is behind on payments for state guarenteed loans (like school loans). If you are, Arkansas will not give you a license. Oklahoma has the same law. What will happen the way the system is now, is the guy from Arkansas will move to Oklahoma and get a job there. By having every state cross check every other state, people will not be allowed to start over. Maybe Joe Sixpack went to State U, ran himself into $40,000 in debt, and feels he can never overcome such a large amount of debt.

      Or what about minor crimes? What if someone at the age of 20 decided to join the Alabama KKK? That person never broke a crime, just went to protests and meetings. At age 24 the person quits, and two years later moves to New York. Should New York know about his prior membership because of some anti-terrorism database? I know what everyone is thinking, the KKK is bad, so screw that person. I'll give a counter example, same facts as above, but instead of KKK the person is a member of PETA where his cohorts raid a university research center and free test animals.

      Are we still a free nation, or a nation where everyone has a history stored in a database?

      What is going to happen is some start-up in Cali will offer a service, checking a person through every state and FBI database. Once that becomes profitable, forget about ever trying to get a job for more than minimum wage if you have a blemish on your record. It will be the same thing employers are doing with checking credit reports before hiring workers.

      We need less databases, and more privacy laws.

      • "That person never broke a crime, just went to protests and meetings."
        What... does... that... mean?
      • We need less databases, and more privacy laws.

        Well here in Europe, the European Council (or Commission, not that sure but doesn't really matter) are going towards exactly the opposite: more databases, and privacy laws are getting undermined

        (thanks, Blair, Balkenende et al. we do appreciate your concerns for the public. Thanks, but no thanks.)

      • What is going to happen is some start-up in Cali will offer a service, checking a person through every state and FBI database. Once that becomes profitable, forget about ever trying to get a job for more than minimum wage if you have a blemish on your record.

        Dude, you're describing the situation as it existed circa 1990, or even 1980. But it's 2005 now [almost 2006 - yikes!], and everything you've foreseen has come to pass.

        Compare the story of Mr. Charles "Roscoe" Heaton:

        Ex-con. Emory grad. Would you

    • Here's a short summary [] without the depth of the IEEE article.

  • Efficiency (Score:4, Funny)

    by mrogers ( 85392 ) on Saturday December 03, 2005 @06:05PM (#14175166)
    It's good to know those forms will now be scanned in and turned into 1,000 PDFs. That should lead to an enormous increase in efficiency.
  • by slashedmydot ( 927745 ) on Saturday December 03, 2005 @06:08PM (#14175179) Homepage
    When I watched The X-Files 10 years ago I thought: "this is bullshit, the government is way to incompetent for that kind of stuff".

    These kind of screwups are very effective conspiracykillers...
  • It's amazing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by confusion ( 14388 ) on Saturday December 03, 2005 @06:16PM (#14175197) Homepage
    It really is amazing that they can spend that kind of money and have nothing to show for it... All the while, they're hunting criminals trying to screw the government - sounds like they should look inside.

    Jerry []
  • by bergeron76 ( 176351 ) on Saturday December 03, 2005 @06:36PM (#14175252)
    Seriously. It looks like they are stonewalling for MSFT.
  • by SillyNickName4me ( 760022 ) <> on Saturday December 03, 2005 @07:36PM (#14175505) Homepage
    Years ago I arrived on Frankfurt airport on a flight from Bangkok. On arrival, it turned out that the local computer systems responsible for running all the gate assignments and platform traffic were down, and were not going to be up in the comming hours. As it turns out, the local airport staff had a complete paper based system in place still and managed to keep the place running with relatively little delay, thanks to tons of paper forms, and an obviously well thought out system that worked regardless of those computers (tho it is probably a lot cheaper and more efficient to run it with computers of course)

    In other words, if your system is simply too complex to manage then you may have a problem right there. Throwing computer power at it to better keep track is no alternative to thinking up a better system, it is just a good tool for making it more efficient.

    Of course using a more efficient system opens up new possibilities, thats not the point, but no number of computers is going to reduce 1000 forms to a more managable number by itself.
    • Reminds me of how NASCAR scores races.

      At the most basic level, they have 43 driver representatives sitting in a room with a view of the track. They write down time off a big clock when their car crosses the line. This is level 1. All it requires is power for the clock.

      Also on the desk is a button. They press it when their car crosses the line. Level 2. Requires the computer to work.

      In each car there is a small radio transponder, and when they cross an antenna on the start / finish line, a eve
    • One of ( if not the ) most insightful posts I have seen here. The old rule KISS ! Any and all systems should be designed to work with OR without computers. A computer is just a tool - my job, my profession, my paycheck, even my passion BUT anytime I see a system that will not work without computers ( slower, more pain, etc.. ) it is for me a failed design. Once again - this is insightful but unfortunately forgotten too many times. Now - of course, I'm a computer person and will never understand why these th
    • Absolutely.

      This is called Process Design.
      Often in companies and big organisations, the Process Managers or
      Process Designers are people not working in these processes once they
      are in place. They just sit there, dreaming up nice theories about how things
      could be more efficient or measurable - KPIs, "You can't manage what you can't
      measure" and other bullshit is what you hear from them.

      After that, a software is build to fit their strange requirements. Sooner or
      later, this software meets reality, i.e. real users
  • Recent work had me creating a program that processes data coming from NCIC. It's unbelievable how primitive it is. They can't even supply it in machine-readable form yet, I have to use screen-scraping techniques. I have this mental picture of the main server room populated with vacuum-tube Univac equipment maintained by Grace Hopper.

  • The Sept. 11 commission criticized the FBI's lack of information sharing that could have helped prevent the terrorist attacks.

    Were they aware of this marvelous piece of technology called the telephone? I don't think they cost much, either.
    • Who ya gonna call? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Foerstner ( 931398 )
      How, exactly would that have helped?

      "FBI switchboard operator."

      "Yes, hello, I need to talk to someone in counterterrorism...?"

      "One moment, I'll connect you." *BEEP BOOP BOOP*

      "Counterterrorism task force, this is agent Smith, how may I help you?"

      "Yeah, this is Mark Chambers with the INS. I'm calling about this guy, Mohammed Atta. He's applied for a visa for flight school, but he keeps raving about jihad and the Great Satan. You know anything about this guy?"

      "Maybe. I'll have to look through some files. If yo
      • Interesting example. Even so, a week lead time for an information request would have made much more difference than MONTHS of no communication at all. If they can't get the information in a week, then there are more serious problems. If these are not fixed first, they will have an adverse impact on the design of the new system, quite possibly leading to a repeat of the $170 million money-sucking black hole that preceded it. Except this time, after all cost overruns are figured in, it will probably be twice
    • One of the issues prior to the 2001 incident was reported to be that the FBI, CIA, etc, were more worried about turf-protection than criminal interdiction. If you actually called someone, you'd have to share the credit, possibly help his budget get increased, and therefore lose face within your own organization. So, while modernizing the FBI computer system (and while they're at it the great gantlet of forms that will be digitized) is a great idea, someone has to do something about the FBI culture as well
  • by MOBE2001 ( 263700 ) on Saturday December 03, 2005 @09:24PM (#14176038) Homepage Journal
    From the article: With a wide variety of investigations, the FBI must be able to collect and store information in several different systems -- top secret, secret, classified, and sensitive but unclassified -- and any given document might contain information that falls into all four categories. Thus, the new system needs strict security controls to prevent information from falling into the wrong hands...

    This is a big complicated system" because of the variety of issues the FBI investigates...

    High complexity and the need for utmost security is the ideal combination for monumental failure, IMO. The problem with security is not the lack of adequate secure technology. Current techniques do work, otherwise our electronic commerce would have collapsed already. The problem is that hackers and ennemy spies will try to find ways of getting around the security barriers by exploiting defects in the underlying software. Since the number of defects in a software system is proportional to its complexity, there is no doubt that the system's security will be compromised at one time or another. It makes no difference who develops it.

    A network's security is thus intimately tied to the reliability and robustness of the network's software. Security companies have no way of guaranteeing that the various software modules used in their systems are defect-free. This uncertainty is the Achilles' heel of the security industry. The solution is to move away from algorithmic software and adopt a non-algorithmic, signal-based, synchronous software model.
    • There's nothing new about having multiple classifications. The military has always been using that, and the FBI is not much different. That is not the real problem. The problem is "what information is relevant to other information" and connecting the dots. You have X pieces of data coming in from Y sources and sometimes multiple pieces of information per source from multiple sources needs to be combined to connect the dots. In a worst case you got X!Y! complexity in the information.

      Since the number of defec

  • Maybe they should contract 4-5 firms to do a rapid development prototype. Than award the contract to the team that makes the best progress.

    Geez, isn't that how the military does things??? Except they typically pay $50-$1000 million for each prototype.

    Rather than waste
  • I guess it will have to go back to the "Unexplained" category because there will be no use for filing cabnets.

    The U-Files just isn't as catchy.
  • Northrop Grumman (Score:1, Interesting)

    by glitch23 ( 557124 )
    I'm already on a contract (I'm a subcontractor) under Lockheed Martin for the FBI and recently Northrop won a contract and had employees working in the same building I was working in. The project Northrop was working on ended up being behind schedule with Northrop behind on documentation and other things. Given, they were new to the environment and LM has been around for over 4 years now in the same environment but if that is any indication of future performance then Northrop won't win the bid for this new

Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty. -- Plato