Cost Overruns for FBI’s ‘Sentinel’

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It’s another day and another cost overrun in the federal government. This time it’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Sentinel project, which is supposed to create a new web-based electronic case management system for agents and analysts. Sentinel was projected to cost $425 million and be completed by December 2009. Instead, Sentinel is over-budget and behind schedule.

This isn’t the first time the FBI has tried to move away from a paper-based system to an electronic system. According to the Justice Department’s inspector general, a project begun in 2001 was abandoned in 2005 due to “a variety of reasons, including poorly defined design requirements, a lack of mature management processes, high management turnover, and poor oversight.” 

The inspector general says that $405 million of the $451 budgeted for Sentinel has been spent, but only 2 of the 4 project phases have been substantially completed and that “the most challenging development work for Sentinel still remains.” Moreover, Phase 2 delivered significantly less functionality to FBI users than originally planned.” For instance, users have complained that it doesn’t even have auto-save capability or an integrated spell-checker.
 
Sentinel is currently 32 percent over-budget and two years behind schedule. Worse, an independent assessment of the project concluded that the project will need another $351 to $453 million and won’t be finished for another 6 to 8 years. As the inspector general notes, “the longer the full implementation of Sentinel takes, the more likely it is that already implemented hardware and software features will become obsolete.”

See this Cato essay for more on government cost overruns.