Thursday, January 13, 2005
WASHINGTON — A new FBI computer program designed to help agents share information to ward off terrorist attacks may have to be scrapped, the agency has concluded, forcing a further delay in a four-year, half-billion-dollar overhaul of its antiquated computer system.
The bureau is so convinced that the software, known as Virtual Case File, will not work as planned that it has taken steps to begin soliciting proposals from outside contractors for new software, officials said.
The overhaul of the decrepit computer system was identified as a priority both by the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks and by members of Congress, who found that the FBI's old system prevented agents from sharing information that could have headed off the attacks.
Since the attacks, Congress has given the FBI a blank check, allocating billions of dollars in additional funding. So far the overhaul has cost $581 million, and the software problems are expected to set off a debate over how well the bureau has been spending those dollars.
The bureau recently commissioned a series of independent studies to determine whether any part of the Virtual Case File software could be salvaged. Any decision to proceed with new software would add tens of millions of dollars to the development costs and render worthless much of a current $170-million contract.