Justice becomes latest to end troubled IT project

Monday - 9/20/2010, 6:29pm EDT

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

For the second time in two weeks, the Justice Department announced significant changes to a major technology program to improve the sharing and management of law enforcement cases.

The FBI last week announced it would take over the management of its much-troubled Sentinel program.

And today federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra said in prepared remarks to the CIO Council that Justice canceled its $65 million litigation case management system. Kundra said the program was "years behind schedule and over budget."

Kundra used a teleconference with CIOs today to follow up on some of the issues talked about at the full in-person CIO Council meeting Sept. 15.

Justice also becomes the third agency to shut down a major program, joining the Small Business Administration and the Veterans Affairs Department, which announced recently each would end major financial management systems because of budget, schedule and risk problems.

Similar to SBA and VA, the IT Dashboard showed Justice's litigation case management system on track.

Justice CIO Van Hitch rated it a 2.5 out of 5, said the project was meeting 9.01 out of 10 of its cost--$1.8 million under budget--and 9.49 out of 10 of its schedule milestones.

"Following a thorough cost-benefit review, the department decided to terminate this project and replace it with smaller, more targeted efforts that would result in more than $100 million in savings over the next several years while still accomplishing the improvements needed to the case management system," said a Justice spokeswoman in an e-mailed statement.

SBA and VA CIOs reported on the IT Dashboard that their projects also were on time and on budget.

"The government is good at pointing out the problems, but not good at doing anything about them. I give them credit for taking aim at many of these programs." said a former Justice Department official, who requested anonymity because their current company didn't give them permission to talk.

The official said the problem with LCMS was less about technology, and more about the inability to change the culture at Justice.

"Across all of these financial management and these case management systems, what's happened in last 10 years is headquarters wants visibility and components or suborganizations fight visibility," the official said. "That is why big systems don't work. If you look at LCMS, officials wanted to answer specific case load questions and it took 30 days to answer, which was too long. Then the system continued to morph and the arms fought the head across department."

The official added that it seems that the management side of OMB finally has the buy-in from the budget side and Capitol Hill to cancel poorly performing IT projects.

Along with Justice's changes, Kundra announced the Interior Department has rescoped its departmentwide system to share security, law enforcement and emergency management information.

Interior now will have six-month milestones for its Incident Management Analysis and Reporting System, to help 6,000 law enforcement officers protect the nation's natural resources and cultural monuments.

Interior CIO Bernie Mazur gave this program on the IT Dashboard pretty good reviews. Mazur scored it 3 out of 5, said it was $14.7 million under budget and meeting its scheduled within 2.2 percent.

Kundra used his time before the CIO Council to reiterate the administration's three-step process to reform IT projects, and the progress made so far.

"Our actions to date are the initial steps in making the Federal government work better for the American people and send a clear message that we are no longer willing to throw good money after bad money," his remarks state. "The efforts to date prove that the Federal government can take action and execute on tough decisions to turnaround, halt or terminate failing projects. By doing our business in the light of day we can reduce wasteful spending and hold those who manage the public's dollars accountable for results."

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