FBI’s Virtual Case File System tops list of IT Turkey Awards

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The FBI’s Virtual Case File System is headlining a list of IT Turkey Awards in this week’s Government Computer News. The Feds have spent over 1/2 billion on what is essentially an information database since 2001 and still the project is delayed (pushed back now to 2010).  What is VCF? Basically it’s a computer case file system; a way of keeping all FBI cases in an automated database so that information can be easily shared between agencies. You’d think the reputed number one law enforcement agency in the world could get this right, but no… the current system they have is a nightmare of conflicting information systems that don’t talk to each other. Think of it as all the little bits of paper about your family history peppered around your grandpa’s house and you’ll have the proper metaphor for the FBI: a brain-addled alzheimers patient: that’s your modern police force.

I’ve written about VCF a number of times on this site, but I can’t be bothered to go fetch the links. Google it if you want more info:

IT turkeys: 7 government projects worthy of a roast

By Kevin McCaney
Nov 20, 2009

Every year before Thanksgiving, the president of the United States is presented with a turkey, which he then pardons in a good-humored show public of magnanimity (and then eats some other turkey on Thanksgiving Day, but that’s politics). The ceremony reminds us that, over the years, the American public has been gifted with its share of computer-based turkeys — information technology projects gone wrong, often at spectacular expense.

Some of these projects have been unmitigated disasters, abandoned before the pop-up thermometer ever popped up, after years of work and millions, or even billions, of dollars. Others scuffled along for years — frustrating department heads, Congress and regular users while keeping inspectors general and the Government Accountability Office fully employed – before coughing up some results.

We don’t claim that this is a comprehensive list of failures; nor do we say that all, or even most, government IT projects deserve a public roasting. After all, government IT efforts have produced significant achievements, such as a little thing named the Internet, and the Global Positioning System, which has given birth to countless weather and mapping systems while creating a world in which Real Men never have to ask for directions again. Every year, in fact, IT teams at government agencies deliver projects that are deservedly praised for their excellence. Those and many others are projects we can give thanks for.

Below, however, are seven projects that, in the spirit of the presidential Thanksgiving tradition, could use a little forgiveness.

FBI Virtual Case File (VCF) System

Started in June 2001 as a 36-month project to develop a system for tracking criminal cases, the FBI spent about $170 million over four years before concluding that VCF wasn’t going to work. Prime contractor SAIC blamed the bureau for hundreds of requirements changes during development. In 2005, VCF was replaced with Sentinel, a $451 million project to accomplish the same goal. According to a report this month from the Justice Department’s inspector general, completion of Sentinel, originally scheduled for December, has been pushed back to September 2010.

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