FBI Sentinel Program Brings The Agency Into The Digital Age
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Well, they’ve finally done it. It took them 12 years and more than $600 million total to get to this point, but the FBI has finally made the switch to digital files, joining the rest of us here in the brand new century.
FBI agents can now use the system, called Sentinel, to search previous cases for information in a web-browser-based layout, complete with cutting edge elements such as movable windows, tabs and a question-and-answer format.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Sentinel closely resembles consumer tax software.
The FBI has been slowly rolling out Sentinel over recent years, killing off portions of their old, paper based system as they went along. The government agency finally placed the final nail in the coffin for their old system on Tuesday, saying they had finally worked all the bugs out of the new, digital system.
Demonstrating Sentinel to reporters on Tuesday, an FBI agent was able to perform such tasks as sharing files electronically with other agents, track changes made by other users and even employ RSS feeds to stay abreast of new changes and topics.
Should an agent need to find a phone number, they can simply use the search feature to find it and determine if the number has shown up in other cases.
Sentinel’s main page resembles that of Microsoft’s Outlook and is capable of reminding agents about deadlines or other pending cases. Should an agent need to electronically sign a document, they need only to swipe a card into a digital card reader.
According to Bloomberg, Sentinel was originally slated to cost $425 million when it was first proposed in 2006. An estimated $26 million later and more than 2 years past deadline, Sentinel is finally ready to streamline the workflow of the FBI.
This new computer-based system will be used by analysts and employees alike from agencies which handle terrorism cases with the FBI. Using the system will enable these employees to share information with one another more easily than their old, paper-based system.
The FBI hasn’t always had this kind of success with their digitization efforts. Before Sentinel was announced in 2005, FBI Director Robert Mueller canceled a technology product called Trilogy which was supposed to create a software called Virtual Case File. Before it was cancelled, project Trilogy had already cost the FBI $170 million and 3 years’ worth of work.
Nearly 5 years after the Sentinel effort had begun, the Justice Department conducted an audit, criticizing the Sentinel effort which was already 1 year past deadline and dangerously close to budget. The FBI then cancelled their contract with Lockheed Martin in 2010 due to delays and moved the project in house.
While the 2010 Justice Department audit didn’t have much praise for Sentinel, the FBI has refuted some of their claims, saying the new digital system actually came in under the $451 million budget, expanded from $425 in 2010. Jeffrey Johnson, the FBI’s chief technology officer, said their smaller budget didn’t account for expenses such as the cost of government personnel to create and implement the new service.
Mr. Johnson told the Wall Street Journal that the hardest part of getting the agents to adopt the new system was convincing them that it’s really happening this time.
“Given the history of the program, frankly, everybody I met was skeptical,” Mr. Johnson said.
Now, 18,000 to 21,000 users every day are asked to enter data from relevant cases, transferring the information from the old paper system to the new, Sentinel one.