It’s a good thing the “Welcome to the 21st Century” gift card the FBI received at the turn of this century didn’t have an expiration date. The bureau is finally cashing it in as they herald Sentinel, a system that allows G-Men (and women) to go digital. No more paper files, which was still how work was primarily documented until recently. The Wall Street Journal reports:
An FBI special agent demonstrated the system, which went live July 1, to reporters Tuesday. Agents can share files electronically and can track changes made by others. RSS feeds, commonly used in Web browsers to aggregate news topics, can be used to track updates on files.
The system also sports top-notch security swipers that identify agents and cases. It allows agents to cross reference other files when searching data like phone numbers, for instance, enabling them to link cases that might been otherwise thought to be unrelated. That’s fancy. And it should be, since the system has been in development for 12 years to the tune of $600 million. Getting the site up and running has been a huge priority since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, which exposed slow reaction time for agents needing to get information to each other.
So why did it take so long? Well, this kind of software doesn’t really exist. It has to be imagined, pretty much, from the ground up. Again from the Journal:
A 2010 audit by the Justice Department’s inspector general sharply criticized the Sentinel effort, which began in 2005 and was meant to be completed by 2009, casting doubt on whether the bureau could stay within a $451 million budget.
That’s on top of the $170 million—and three years—auditors said was wasted on an earlier technology project called Trilogy that was supposed to deliver software called Virtual Case File.
Now that Sentinel is official, the trick will be getting agents to actually use it. Turns out, they’re a little weary of switching from paper (insert something about teaching an old dog new tricks here).