FBI computer upgrade to cost more, take longer to implement, IG finds

The FBI's Sentinel upgrade has experienced countless troubles since early 2006, but its contractors at Lockheed Martin and top FBI officials have long stressed the program would meet its fall 2010 deadline.

However, that confidence seemed to erode by the early days of March, after FBI chief Robert Mueller informed members on a House Appropriations subcommittee that the computer upgrade could actually take until 2011, citing minor problems as the delay's culprits.

To a handful of lawmakers, Mueller's admission of difficulty signaled that bigger, costlier problems were afoot.

"We remain very concerned about the ability of the FBI to complete the Sentinel project on time and budget," Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote in March 17 letter to Mueller. "We have not forgotten the FBI's previous attempt at creating an automated case management system, the failed Virtual Case File System, which cost federal taxpayers over $100 million and ultimately finished with no workable system."

"Given the current financial condition of the U.S. government and the increasing federal deficits, it is imperative the FBI remain committed to finishing Sentinel on time and on budget," the lawmakers stressed.

As the IG report confirmed on Wednesday, the FBI is unlikely to reach either target. Addressing lingering flaws in the second phase of the Sentinel upgrade, combined with current delays, could require months of additional work. And the program itself could cost at least another $25 million, on top of the $334 million lawmakers have already allocated it.

It remains unclear, however, whether lawmakers will allocate the program those much-needed funds. Attempts to reach both Sens. Grassley and Shelby for comment on Thursday were unsuccessful.