I got nothing today, read my homework

(I’ve applied for the Masters program at North Carolina State University, with a focus on Justice Administration. Currently I’m taking a course in Public Information Technology. Most of my application is finished, but I still have to write the GRE (yuck))

FYI: I got an “A” on this assignment – go Wolfpack!

North Carolina State University
PA 542 – Public Information Technology

March 15, 2005

From: John Allore

Subject: Strategic Planning and the failure of the FBI’s Virtual Case File System


In the 1990s the United States Government introduced several policy initiatives to address issues of strategic information resource management. Recognizing the growing influence of information technology, three pieces of legislation were introduced to help manage information resources as used in federal agencies; the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA), the revisions to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA), and the Information Technology Management Reform Act or Clinger Cohen Act of 1993 (ITMRA).

Each of these three policies address issues specific to the management of government information technology. The GPRA specifies that agencies must develop strategic plans that are performance-based, with outcome related goals and objectives. Along with other issues, the PRA mandates that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) – under the umbrella of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – develop a government-wide strategic plan to help guide agencies in the generation and implementation of their own specific strategic plans. The Clinger Cohen Act calls for the creation of Chief Information Officers for agencies and specifies that these CIOs must have the same degree of influence as other top managers. As well, these CIOs form the basis of a CIO Council, an advisory committee to develop recommendations for federal information technology policy, procedures and standards.

The intended influence and far reaching effect of these three policies was addressed in Executive Order 13011, signed by President Bill Clinton on July 16, 1996:

The head of each agency shall use information technology to improve mission performance and service to the public through… establishing mission-based performance measures for information systems, aligned with agency performance plans prepared pursuant to the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993… [1]

Strategic Information Management

According to The Government Accountability Offices’ publication, Improving Mission Performance Through Strategic Information Management and Technology (GOA/AIMD-94-115), strategic planning is a mission-based process, “by which top agency officials and line managers plan for, direct, and evaluate the use of information and information technologies to help accomplish their basic programmatic objectives.” The process involves the interrelation of five concepts:

– Technology
– Information
– Decisions
– Work Processes
– Mission

In the strategic management process Technology is used to process Information which supports Decisions which in turn drive Work Processes thus accomplishing the agency’s Mission.

The GOA envisions a five-year implementation process for Strategic Information Management:

Stage One – Benchmarks Assessed, Performance Indicators developed

Stage Two – Processes established, Completion of indicators

Stage Three – Tracking of indicators, improvement in processes

Stage Four – More improvements, refinement of indicators

Stage Five – Full implementation of processes

Under the mandate of the GPRA agencies were called on to fully implement (Stage 5) Strategic Information Management practices no later than 2002. Strategic Information Management under the direction of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 is a system for measuring performance that ties results to the congressional appropriations process. Each agency is called upon to produce three documents; a five year strategic plan, an annual performance review plan and a performance review report submitted to congress.

The FBI’s Virtual Case Filing System

As early as 1985 the Federal Bureau of Investigation was discussing the need to upgrade its technology infrastructure. Launched in 2000, the Trilogy project (so named because it involved the implementation of three components) involved the phased implementation of hardware and software upgrades, an overhaul of the agency’s communications systems, and upgrades to Bureau applications for data sharing and case work. By April 2004, the first two phases were completed, but the third phase which provided the applications for the Virtual Case Filing System (VCF) had stalled and was over budget. Last month Agency officials including Director, Robert Mueller III admitted that the VCF system did not work and may need to be scrapped, at a cost of approximately $170 million to taxpayers.

In his February 2005 audit entitled, The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Management of the Trilogy Information Technology Modernization Project Inspector General Glenn Fine attributed bad planning and management to the failures of VCF. In an 81-page document Fine detailed the following reasons for delays and cost increases to the project:

• poorly defined and slowly evolving design requirements

• contracting weaknesses

• IT investment management weaknesses

• lack of management continuity and oversight

• unrealistic scheduling of tasks

• lack of adequate project integration

• inadequate resolution of issues raised in reports on Trilogy

According to its contractor, Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), the FBI failed to establish a baseline for the VCF, adopting instead a “we’ll-know-it-when-we-see-it”[2] approach which caused significant “scope creep” to the project’s parameters. In one 18-month period, the FBI requested 399 requirement changes.[3] As well, VCF suffered from a lack of leadership, having gone through five CIOs since the FBI began implementation. One industry source called the failures of the FBI’s Virtual Case File System, “an object lesson on how not to run a procurement.”[4]

Failure of Trilogy

The magnitude failure of the FBI’s Trilogy project is hard to comprehend under the influence of the Government Performance and Results Act. Under GPRA, agencies were supposed to develop strategic plans to foresee and prevent information technology failures. Since the implementation of the GPRA in 1997, the FBI has had the benefit of working under two strategic plans; the Federal Bureau of Investigation Strategic Plan 1998 – 2003, and its successor, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Strategic Plan 2004 – 2009. However this current plan does not adhere to the guidelines established by the General Accountability Office (GOA). The FBI’s plan fails to identify any goals, other than the vaguest of universal concepts. There are no performance measures or indicators given in the plan, nor are there any Agency benchmarks; thus it is impossible for the Bureau to measure its performance. One section of the FBI’s Strategic Plan addresses the issue of information technology, and specifically the Trilogy Project:

The FBI’s Trilogy project has begun that process by upgrading to communications facilities, network servers, and desktop workstations that can accommodate the same enhanced technologies. The future challenge is to continue upgrading in order to keep pace with the technical prowess of our adversaries. [5]

To the matter of benchmarks, the plan offers the following priorities:

Priority Actions:

– Complete Trilogy upgrades currently underway.

– Ensure a technology refresh cycle of 36 months for mission-oriented work.

– Establish and implement a plan to make all technology available to any employee at any fixed office location.”[6]

The FBI’s strategic plan is a poor tool for IT management, and under the plan’s direction the Agency’s Virtual Case File System was destined to failure. Moreover, it contrasts greatly with other strategic plans such as the Justice Department’s 2003 Annual Performance Report to Congress which has clearly outlined performance measures, annual targets or benchmarks for success, a listing of actual outcomes, and a discussion on how to remedy failure or continue to improve on successes. [7]


In her essay, The Realities of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, author Patricia Fletcher warned of the dangers of avoiding strategic planning in the implementation of information resources:

“…lack of attention to the management aspects of information technology leads to cost overruns of millions of dollars, projects that are years behind in implementation, and systems that, in the end, do not meet the needs of the end users.” [8]

Currently the FBI’s Virtual Case File System is under review as officials decide whether to continue investing in the project, or discontinue VCF altogether and start the project over from scratch. In the Agency’s 2006 budget there is no new money allocated to the VCF. Should the project be scrapped, it is estimated that the total loss could be anywhere between $100 and $200 million. [9] As the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, Commerce and Related Agencies begins to launch a review of the VCF program, Senator Judd Gregg offered the following comments:

“Maybe we should have an independent executive team with expertise (to oversee systems projects) that is consistent and technologically current” [10]

Such an argument may seem prudent, if the government didn’t already have such a team currently in place to provide technological direction. As Fletcher argues [11] the CIO Council, created under the mandate of the Paperwork Reduction Act was supposed to provide oversight and consistency by establishing a government-wide strategic Information Resource Management Plan for agencies. To date, the CIO Council has failed to come up with a unifying plan. As a result there is great confusion, a lack of agency oversight, and a general lack of consistency in the strategic plans provided by government agencies.

Further clouding the issue, The President’s Management Agenda under the Bush Administration has recently created the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART). Operating under the authority of the OMB – the same office that was to assess results through the use of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) – PART is supposed to assess results, accountability and performance of government agencies. But as argued in a recent article in OMB Watch,

The PART and GPRA appear to be redundant functions in the federal government — an ironic twist as each was meant to promote accountability and efficiency in government. A January 2004 Government Accountability Office report detailed the use of the PART and its relationship to GPRA. The GAO found the PART was a parallel and competing approach with GPRA’s Performance Management Framework … The relationship between the PART and GPRA is not clear and is often confusing to program officials and agency managers and undermines the efforts of both to promote efficiency and accountability. [12]


The failure of the FBI’s Virtual Case File System can be attributed to the poor planning and management of the project. Though legislation such as the Paperwork Reduction Act, Clinger Cohen Act and the Government Performance and Results Act were intended to improve efficiencies and accountability in federal government, agencies are still unable to effectively implement strategic management systems that clearly benchmark performance and outcomes. Part of the problem may be attributed to the failure of top policy makers to clearly define how performance is to be measured through planning models. Competing legislation that at times contradicts policy has also added to confusion.

[1] (sec. 2, Federal Register / Vol. 61, No.140)
[2] GNC, 03/07/05
[3] Ibid 1.
[4] Washington Technology, 03/07/05 Vol. 20 No. 5
[5] www.fbi.gov/publications/strategicplan
[6] Ibid 4
[7] www.usdoj.gov/ag/annualreports/ar2003
[8] Public Information Technology, Ed. G David Garson, Chapter IV, Realities of the Paperwork Reduction Act
[9] Ibid 1
[10] GCN 03/08/05
[11] Ibid 7
[12] http://www.ombwatch.org/article/articleview/2680/


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: