FBI Director Robert Mueller said Thursday that delays in a massive overhaul of the bureau’s case management system were routine and he assured senators that the $305 million project would not become a boondoggle.
Mueller’s decision to suspend work on portions of the program, known as Sentinel, was based on third-party reviews that uncovered “coding defects,” he told members of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the FBI budget.
The revelation last month of delays in the project’s second of four phases recalled the collapse of an earlier incarnation of the case management system, at a cost of about $100 million.
“Is this just a normal delay … or are we on the way to boondoggle?” asked Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice and science Appropriations Subcommittee.
Mueller described the setback as “minor” and said bumps were to be expected in a project of this magnitude. The phased approach, he added, has allowed the bureau to take advantage of the upgrades as they are completed and to monitor the project more closely.
In this instance, Mueller said, the last segment of the second phase “did not meet our expectations.”
The technical problems could lead to more than $30 million in cost overruns in the program, which is contracted to Lockheed Martin, reported The New York Times. Mueller acknowledged the delay would push the date of completion into 2011.
The bureau’s efforts to upgrade its technology have raised larger questions about its agility in national security and traditional law enforcement matters. Mueller told Mikulski the bureau had made vast gains since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when many agents could not send or receive e-mail messages.
For instance, Mueller said, the bureau now uses more than 26,000 Blackberry devices.