Where's The Checkbox For 'New FBI Computer System Is So Bad I Plan To Go On A Crime Spree'?

from the nice-work dept

Back in 2004, we wrote about how hundreds of millions of dollars had been spent over the previous four years on a new computer system for the FBI that apparently didn’t actually work and was useless at finding terrorists. After that was announced, it still took the FBI another seven months before announcing they were getting rid of the system. After that, it still took another year for them to agree to spend hundreds of millions on a new system that won’t be ready until 2009 at the earliest. Is it any wonder that FBI employees who are working on the computer system already feel the need to hack the system just to get some work done?

If you’re wondering how this all came to be, the Washington Post has now done an in-depth report on just how screwed up the process was for building the FBI’s computer system. Basically, the FBI handed the project over to the government’s favorite secretive tech supplier, SAIC. Rather than actively manage the process, they more or less let SAIC define what it should do. There’s some disagreement over who made this decision, but it included having SAIC build a system from scratch — rather than modify available off-the-shelf offerings (something the FBI insists it won’t do this time). So, you have a government contractor given a multi-million computer project, little oversight and loosely defined objectives. SAIC did pretty much what you’d expect. They took a lot of money from the government (or, if you’d like, from the taxpayers), wrote lots of code, but didn’t bother much to make sure it did what the FBI needed it to do. The best part of the article is the quote from a computer science professor who reviewed the system and noted the pure stupidity of trying to launch an entirely new computer system at once with no backup plan, rather than phase it in gradually: “A bunch of us were planning on committing a crime spree the day they switched over. If the new system didn’t work, it would have just put the FBI out of business.” Comforting, huh?

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Comments on “Where's The Checkbox For 'New FBI Computer System Is So Bad I Plan To Go On A Crime Spree'?”

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Adam says:

all about requirements

any software project is absolutely dead in the water without firm, concrete requierments.

now… its generally thought of as the “DEVELOPERS” (ie SAIC in this case) job to make sure the requirements are what they need.. but because of a little thing called “developer’s ego” …the blame usually gets (wrongfully) shoved onto the client (the FBI in this case).

get a new contractor.

metallic says:

Re: all about requirements

now… its generally thought of as the “DEVELOPERS” (ie SAIC in this case) job to make sure the requirements are what they need.. but because of a little thing called “developer’s ego” …the blame usually gets (wrongfully) shoved onto the client (the FBI in this case).

Actually, blame goes both ways here. The requirements phase is one of the few phases where both the developers and the client basically form one team. It is both parties responsibility to make sure that what is in the requirements document is the actual system that the client wants. At the company I work for, the developers and the client sign off on the requirements documents before actual work begins.

Michael Krigsman (profile) says:

Re: Re: all about requirements

Yes, project management is important. However, on a project of this scope, even great project mgt. is not sufficient.

Ultimately, the executive sponsorship and oversight of a senior official is necessary. And that person must really care. In this case, the project was poorly defined, but I also recall reading about successive changes in management. Without continuity, failure is almost certainly assured.

Almost every software implementation I describe in my blog results from non-technical issues. Technology is not usually to blame.

Michael Krigsman

rijit (profile) says:

Doesn't really matter does it?

If those tax dollars had not been wasted there, they would have been wasted elsewhere… Our government is all about paying 10X (at least) more than what anything is worth, why should the FBI be any different. After all, half (or more) of the government contractors are scam artists that should be investigated by the FBI, oh wait, they have no computer systems, never-mind.

Ali Khalid (user link) says:

The most agrivating part in the situtation is that since it is my money (me asa tax payer) which is being wasted i cant do any thing about it.

Suppose, i go out and hire a contractor to build my house, if it not upto my requirement, i will tell him to refund me or fix it, but with goverments, you cant say to the goverment that look, i paid for the system so if it is not working, fix it or refund my money (tax).

Sn'dub'0'p do'Dub'G says:


Gove is here for a reason, to provide a means for it’s people to make decisions. Thing is now days, the gov doesn’t listen to it’s people and has become an entity that assumes itself free from the rule of the people it’s sworn to serve.

If that doesn’t fit the pre’reqs for THE PEOPLE to take back THIER COUNTRY, well folks, I dunno what does.

Big Huge Dave says:

I hope you all understand...

…that when you vote for Democrats or Republicans this type of thing will always happen. Government waste, no matter what party is in office, will continue until we do something crazy like (GASP!) vote for Libertarians who actually have a plan to stop this sort of thing.


Let’s get rid of this wasteful government!

John Bailey says:

Re: This project is NOT unique

We have a fine tradition of Government sponsered disasters here too. Billions of £ for systems that either take years to work or never work despite beiung cheered as a complete success by the various ministers. Nice to know how much fun it will be catching a plane when biometric passports come in

rijit (profile) says:

This site....

You ever wonder why this site has no new articles on weekends? After all the Internet is offered in these peoples homes too. I am not saying work all weekend. But, news happens during the weekend too and you would think Mike or one of the others might take the time from home, maybe first thing mornings or last thing at night on weekends to post a short post about weekend things. Wouldn’t take more than half an hour or so I would think…

Than again, doing something on weekends that you do all week at work sux so I do understand, I just think a devoted blogger would post no matter the time or day.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This site....

i hate people that complain that some company isn’t doing what *they* want to be doing. listen, if it’s not up to par for you, then don’t come. don’t start telling the company that they should work overtime so you have something to read on the weekend. its like the people that return fast food when it’s not as delicious as they think it should be. a company makes a product, you buy it (or in this case, just visit it). you do *not* dictate it’s requirements and standards. thats a problem with this country. folks that think they deserve the world yesterday.

Jon says:

Re: This site....

Rijit complains that Techdirt doesn’t post enough… yet when you go to rijits own site you see he doesn’t post very often himself. If rijit was really a devoted blogger, wouldn’t he be posting 10 to 15 times per weekday like tech dirt does? So, rijit if it’s such a problem, why aren’t you posting on your own site? Give the tech dirt guys there weekend off.

rijit (profile) says:

Apologies to all.

No complaint, really. I am a regular reader, just making an observation is all. I enjoy this site thoroughly. I Hope they have a great weekend off every weekend. I understand it is a job not a blog. As for my own blog, I post things I find interesting when I find them. sometimes I actually write an article or two as well. I do not post often because most of what I read has been posted at many other places.

So, I formally apologize to everyone who had to read my observation/complaint earlier. I did not mean any disrespect to this site, it’s employees, or it’s readers.

Anonymous Coward says:


well, what do you expect when it was made going through government bureaucracy and committee by design (happens in any govt not just the US)? why can’t they just realize that if they handed it over to a regular software/hardware firm(s) with the requirements of what the system needs to do WITHOUT the committee by design, it might actually work…

fairtax.org says:

fairtax! Fairtax!

this is yet another example of why our government is so so out of controll & desperately needs to be put back in it’s place, fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org fairtax.org

The chooser says:

Re: Fairtax my axe!

Many supporters believe a consumption tax affects only those who “choose” to consume. Question. How many of us “choose” to undergo expensive surgery for an unforeseen medical problem? How many of us “choose” to pay for repairs to autos or appliances that break down?

In large part, these choces are forced upon us by circumstance. And the circumstances are forced upon us because those in the middle (or poorer) class can afford only those things that are of marginal quality.

Which car would you think would break down more often – a Mercedes or a Subaru? Which TV would break down more often – an expensive model bought from a quality manufactrer or a Walmart cheapie? And which person, in the long run, is most likely to pay out more money in medical care … a rich person who can afford thorough diagnostic and preventative care or a poor person whose HMO tells him to take a Tylenol?

Repairs and replacements of defective things is where the real money is made in the work-a-day world – something the rich have to worry about less often. And a tax on a person who needs to spend the lion’s share of his/her income to survive will always be lower in real terms than the tax on a person to whom money is no object.

Income levels have never defined who was rich and who was poor. It’s “disposable” income levels.

Freedom Fries says:

Hah! Libertarians are going to save us! Hah!

I’m sorry #14 but the libertarian movement is the biggest social joke I’ve ever seen. To me the libertarians are just anarchist rebranded.

The problem isn’t which political party is running the show; the problem is with the piss-poor leadership running this country. I mean come on, what would you expect from President KooKoo Bananas and his lethargic Congress? This nation will not progress forward if we continually support candidates with regressive strategies.

Cnadidate A says:

Candidate B?

The biggest issues is, any candidate that we (the people) vote on has some sort of hidden agenda. Shit we the people don’t see until the half point of thier term. Fundraising fraud, past crimes, current scandels.

But what does the American People do about it? We wrtie and complain online instead of taking up action. What action? That’s up to you, but it’s time to organize and take back OUR government. You know the one, for the people OF THE PEOPLE.

As of right now, unless you are one of the elitist, well funded figure of a local community, you’ll never get your foot in the door. The most you can do at that point is vote, and we’ve seen the crap with the e-vote machines.

The time has come and passed to accept ANY CURRENT POLITICAL PARTY. PERIOD. No, it is time for change. Now, who’s going to peel thier asses from thier computer chairs to march on Washington? Exactly… NO ONE AT ALL. We’ve already been molded into a subserviant society with no inspiration for change, but only the will power to bitch about what we wish we could change.

I hate having to be carefull with my words also. Half of what I just said was rethought and reworded for FEAR that I could somehow be branded a potential threat to the state. Someone get me a bucket, I’m going to be sick.

doc DoD says:

Along the same lines, the military (DoD) has spent 5,000 million dollars implementing an electronic medical record program called AHLTA that does not much more than take quadruple the time for doctors to write their medical notes, forcing them to see fewer patients… makes sense doesn’t it?

It’s *only* benefit is a permanent medical note available worldwide, but the interface is clunky, written by eggheads, not doctors, and most doctors have resorted to simply free-texting their note, bypassing the very reason the program was written. Better programs were available by private commercial enterprises, but NOOOO, the government had to write it’s own program…. yea right!

Ain’t big government grand?

so says:

new IT systems

Judging from the quality of

grammar and literacy of the

commentators here, it appears

that neither the private community

or the government is to be trusted

with building large systems any more.

It appears to me that the quality of IT,

and many other areas of engineering

have declined in recent years; primarily

from bad management and communications.

I am advising my children to avoid

programming and IT in their career plans,

since american managers have made it clear

that that will be a rather undesirable

skillset in the coming decades….

MO says:

Hmm… sounds like someone at the FBI is getting some money back from SAIC to his own private account…

It is clear that big project like this should take at least two consulting companies to deploy, at least one to implement and one to audit and back up the implementation if things do not work out. Dang, FBI should hire me to be their CIO, lol

Lonnie James says:


So, who exactly has the expertise to manage a build such as this? If we look at what are considered to be able systems, we only have nations that have incrementally built the knowledge to contain miscreants. To date, no other nation has had to go from open (with poorly constructed systems of containment and knowledge of potential threats) to one of top rank in so short a time. The fault, IMHO, is that Congress demanded a ‘system’ without authorizing the thought it would take to assess – and in typical reactive mode, the GSA moved without a plan, based on a political imperative. What we need are smarter politicians!

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