FBI Case Study Outline Essay

                                      FBI Case Study Outline

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was already working on an Information Technology up gradation process (Trilogy) when 9/11 happened. When it was known that better information sharing could have prevented[1] the attack, the pressure to complete the project, which included the Virtual Case File (VCF), intensified. The aim was to replace the currently- in-use antiquated system and make FBI a paperless office to allow for better information flow and sharing in real time.[2] The first two phases of the process were completed successfully. The last phase, implementing the VCF system was the most crucial one and also the one that failed outright.

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 Prior to the VCF, the organization had the Automated Case Support (ACS) system, an old legacy system that was “cumbersome, inefficient, and limited in its capabilities”.[3] The agency thus decided to get an efficient system with better functionality that would be of use in counter-terrorism measures.

 The new system, VCF would enable the agents to enter criminal information, analyze it for links that a cursory look would probably not reveal and also share their findings with agents in other geographical locations.[4] The system was aimed at being better informed about potential threats as prevention of terrorist attacks had become a priority. With the FBI having to deal with thousands[5] of forms for basic functioning of the agency, the VCF attempted to drastically reduce paperwork and ensure speedy sharing of intelligence know-how.

 Strangely enough, despite the respite that the VCF aspired to offer to the agency, there was tremendous resistance against it from the very beginning. The organizational culture was such that the agents did not take Information Technology as a serious means of fighting crime.[6] The culture not only hampered the success of the system, but had the system been implemented, the atmosphere within the FBI would still have thwarted its utility. This is because the FBI was not an IT-friendly institution.

      With the higher-ups[7] not embracing technology, the same mindset percolated down to the lower levels. Thus, no one in the FBI bothered to vigorously monitor the VCF during its developmental stages. Subsequently, the system did not have all the user requirements documented at the on start[8]. Instead, changes were made to the requirements every now and then, which escalated the project tremendously. The potential users of the VCF were disadvantaged as the project was finally abandoned.

 Though the project started out in a planned manner, with the first two phases being     completed on time, the same cannot be said for the last phase. The first phase included the removal of old hardware like computer and replacing them with newer and better computers, routers, etc. The second phase focused on establishing a high speed network that was accessible by the agents all over the world without compromising on security.[9]  The last stage involved putting the Virtual Case File into action. However, the original schedule of the project was scrapped.

       The new schedule demanded that the contractors, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC)   deliver within twenty two months’ time. This risky ‘flash cutover’[10] strategy has been highlighted as an important factor behind the project’s failure. It ruined whatever little planning had been done for the project. With everything being hurried up, the new technology was not implemented the way it should have been. Ideally speaking, as suggested by Scott,[11] the basic steps involved in implementing new technology include announcing the change, training for the change, implementing the change and supporting the change.

       The FBI announced the change, but the changing time frames rendered the announcement useless, giving people very little time to prepare themselves for the change. Announcements are typically supposed to answer the ‘what, when and why’[12] questions about the project, none of which were sufficiently addressed by the FBI or by SAIC. It is also supposed to direct attention to the blueprint of the plan. The FBI failed at this miserably, for a blueprint was missing altogether.[13] When it came to training for the transition, hardly any effort went into it. In fact, it was after the failure of the VCF that the FBI started giving importance to training its personnel in terms of IT[14]. Training was an essential part of the implementation, especially when it was a known fact that the FBI did not have IT-conducive atmosphere.

       The third stage included implementing the change, which comprises gathering user requirements and then developing the system accordingly, coming up with a prototype, testing and then if the prototype is successful, implementing the technology on a large scale throughout the organization. After some initial work, no effective prototyping was done at later stages.[15]

       Similarly, there was no time left for testing the system at each stage. Tests were conducted at a much later stage where it did nothing but add 17 million dollars[16] to the cost. The result was that the project escalated to uncontrollable dimensions and even then could not deliver anything substantial as it was dubbed to be too ‘complicated’[17] for use. Finally VCF had to be killed.

      The case for VCF can be argued in favor of implementing it primarily because the VCF would give the FBI and other secret agencies an opportunity to access and share information. Instead of reinventing the wheel, each office of the FBI could simply access the necessary information from the consolidated database and get going with the various leads. The VCF was meant to be a tool that could be used to ‘connect the dots’[18] , draw speedy conclusions regarding terrorist activities and thus enable swifter preventive action. It could have dramatically transformed the functioning of the agency, if only it had been dealt with correctly from the very beginning.

      Though the failure is a result of both technical and cultural problems, most of the issues can be traced back to the cultural intricacies of the organization. Since the FBI was IT resistant, the main issue that needed attention was changing the mindset of the agency as a whole. This could have been done gradually, by starting at the grass root level. This translates into initiating many of the agents into the IT world by first getting them to use secure e-mail[19] and then gradually involving them in the project as much as possible. A sense of involvement would also have shed light on what the system was all about, an aspect that was hardly explained.

      A more IT embracing attitude would have facilitated better communication[20], an issue that caused a lot of trouble. The communication gap between the users and the contractors discouraged reporting of the progress made. One of the possible solutions could have been to hire Business Analysts, who serve as a link between the users and the contractors. The FBI would then have had a clear understanding of things.

 There has to be a ‘clarity of criteria’[21] when it comes to defining success and failure so that deviation of the project from the intended course is checked effectively. One of the lessons learnt from the venture is that deviation or change in terms of finances or objectives will only hamper the productivity of the project and add to scope creep, whereby the requirements will keep increasing as will the budget and the time required to complete the project. Hence, precision is needed from day one.

     There was barely precision in the type of contract entered into. It was a Government-wide Acquisition Contract[22] wherein the payment was to be made on basis of hours put in. Any resources put into the project, be it time, labor or material, would all have to be paid for by the government. The type of contract chosen was also a mistake. The FBI blames it on the shortage[23] of people who could manage other contractual needs. This can also be perceived as a direct fall-out of the low importance given to IT. Further the contract drastically reduced FBI’s control over the entire undertaking. Control by an organization’s IT department plays a decisive role in “bringing out the best support and service” [24] to the establishment. The FBI later shifted to performance based contracts[25], something that could have saved the VCF.

      To be able to keep a check on any project, it is essential to have the basics in order. This norm was violated with the ‘flash cutover’ idea. Regardless of the urgency of the venture, a major revamping of an organization’s IT structure has to be gradual so as to avoid any overlooked flaws and also to let the institution and the users acclimatize themselves to the change. Instead of the ‘big bang’ methodology,[26]  an incremental approach should have been adopted, as suggested by Aerospace Corporation in its report. This would have helped establish guidelines for managing the flow of information[27] and the information regarding the IT reforms would not have been limited to the lower level of the FBI. As the present CIO of FBI, Zalmai Azmi remarks, “the key now is to do a proper transition from the legacy system to the new system.”[28]

[1] Schumer, Charles, E.(Senator) 2004 Schumer: Ashcroft &FBI Falling Way Short in War on Terrorism: Failed to Take Adequate Corrective Actions Even After 9/11 , press release, 15 April, United States Senate, Washington D.C., viewed 6August 2007, <http://www.senate.gov/~schumer/SchumerWebsite/pressroom/press_releases/PR02573.FBI041504.html >

[2] Frieden, T. 2005, ‘Report: FBI wasted millions on ‘Virtual Case File’’, [Internet], Cable News Network LP. Available from: <http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/02/03/fbi.computers/index.html> [Accessed 6 August]

[3] . Goldstein, H.  Who Killed the Virtual Case File?[Internet], Available from: <http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/print/1455> [Accessed 5 August 2007]

[4] Webb, Cynthia, L.2005,’A Failing Upgrade for the FBI’, Washington Post, 14 January, viewed 5 August 2007, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A9063-2005Jan14.html>.

[5]Squeo, Anne Marie,2005, ‘Security 2.0: FBI Tries Again To Upgrade’, Wall Street Journal, Oct 31, 2005.  pp. B.1.< http://online.wsj.com/article/SB113072498332683907.html?mod=todays_us_marketplace>

[6] Goldstein, H., Who Killed the Virtual Case File?[Internet], Available from: <http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/print/1455> [Accessed 5 August 2007]

[7] Holmes, Allan, ‘Why G-Men Aren’t IT Men’, CIO  15 August, viewed 6August 2007 < http://www.cio.com.au/index.php/id;768773538 >

[8] Congressional Testimony 2005, Statement of Robert S. Mueller, III
Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation: U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Federal Government, United States

[9]Greenemeir, Larry 2005, ‘Tech V/S Terrorism’, InformationWeek, 6 June, viewed 7August 2007, <http://www.informationweek.com/industries/showArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=EOOIV2HXNVSJMQSNDLRSKHSCJUNN2JVN?articleID=164300083&pgno=2&queryText>

[10] Dizard III, Wilson P. 2004, ‘FBI to run old case system while it fields VCF’, Government Computer News, 19 July, viewed 6August 2007, < http://www.gcn.com/print/23_19/26627-1.html >

[11] Scott, David 2005, IT Wars: Managing the Business-technology Weave in the New Millennium, BookSurge, LLC. Viewed 6 August 2007, < http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Mu9T-kd56rwC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=VCF+FBI+technical+failure+&ots=mQwquaH2MM&sig=WTeJtToOHB8UIhv9HYuICuq7D7o#PPA30,M1 >

[12] ibid

[13] Squeo, Anne Marie,2005, ‘Security 2.0: FBI Tries Again To Upgrade’, Wall Street Journal, Oct 31, 2005.  pp. B.1.< http://online.wsj.com/article/SB113072498332683907.html?mod=todays_us_marketplace>

[14] Congressional Testimony 2005, Statement of Robert S. Mueller, III
Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Federal Government, United States
[15]  McGroddy, James C., Lin, Herbert S. 2004, A Review of the

FBI’s Trilogy Information Technology Modernization Program, National Academies Press,

Washington, D.C. viewed 7August 2007, < http://books.nap.edu/html/FBI/0309092248.pdf >

[16] Greenemeir, Larry 2005, ‘Tech V/S Terrorism’, InformationWeek, 7 June, viewed 7August 2007, < http://www.informationweek.com/blog/main/archives/2005/06/fbi_it_lessons.html>

[17] Gage , Deborah 2005, ‘FBI: Cold Case Files’, Baseline ,5 April, viewed 7 August 2007, < http://www.baselinemag.com/print_article2/0,1217,a=149515,00.asp >

[18] Goldstein, H., Who Killed the Virtual Case File?[Internet], Available from: <http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/print/1455> [Accessed 5 August 2007]

[19]  Knorr, Eric, 2005, ‘Anatomy of an IT disaster: How the FBI blew it’, InfoWorld, 21 March , viewed 7 August 2007, < http://www.infoworld.com/article/05/03/21/12FEfbi_3.html >

[20] Hickerson, Thomas B 2006, ‘Failure at the Speed of Light Project Escalation and De-Escalation in the Software Industry’, Thesis, The Fletcher School, retrieved August 7, 2007 from <http://fletcher.tufts.edu>

[21] ibid

[22] ibid

[23] ibid

[24]   Scott, David 2005, IT Wars: Managing the Business-technology Weave in the New Millennium, BookSurge,LLC. Viewed 6 August 2007, < http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Mu9T-kd56rwC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=VCF+FBI+technical+failure+&ots=mQwquaH2MM&sig=WTeJtToOHB8UIhv9HYuICuq7D7o#PPA30,M1 >

[25] Knorr, Eric, 2005, ‘Anatomy of an IT disaster: How the FBI blew it’, InfoWorld, 21 March , viewed 7 August 2007, < http://www.infoworld.com/article/05/03/21/12FEfbi_3.html >

[26] Holmes, Allan, ‘Why G-Men Aren’t IT Men’, CIO  15 August, viewed 6August 2007 < http://www.cio.com.au/index.php/id;768773538 >
[27] Commerce-Justice-State Subcommittee Hearing 2005, Transformation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation: Testimony of Glenn A. Fine, Department of Justice Inspector General , U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Federal Government, United States
[28]Greenemeir, Larry 2005, ‘Tech V/S Terrorism’, InformationWeek, 6 June, viewed 7August 2007, < http://www.informationweek.com/industries/showArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=EOOIV2HXNVSJMQSNDLRSKHSCJUNN2JVN?articleID=164300083&pgno=2&queryText>