Trilogy's requirements for desktop hardware and network infrastructure stayed relatively stable throughout the life of the project (although an additional $100 million was allocated to accelerate completion, to no avail). The software portion was a different story.
What we now know as VCF was preceded by Trilogy's original and quite different proposal, UAC (User Applications Component). The objective of UAC was simple: "Webify" five of the 42 mainframe applications employed by FBI agents in the course of investigations. On the face of it, this seems like a sensible first step toward modernization, but it can also be seen as the crucial error of the entire Trilogy project.
Putting a pretty front end on green screens did nothing to change the underlying processes, in which paper records were primary. Also, according to the OIG report, the choice of which applications to Webify was not based on objective research and evaluation. Instead, FBI IT managers simply picked the five applications used most often by agents.
The FBI realized it didn't have the internal IT expertise to pull off Trilogy. So in mid-2001, it contracted with DynCorp (later purchased in early 2003 by consulting giant CSC) for the desktop and infrastructure components and SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation) for the software.
Only a few months after the ink was dry on these contracts, the Sept. 11 tragedy struck, reshaping the mission of the FBI. No longer would the Bureau be concerned merely with law enforcement. Instead, to protect against terrorism on U.S. soil, the FBI needed to get into the intelligence business.
This shift turned the requirements for UAC inside out. Instead of beautifying old mainframe apps, the charter changed to replacing those applications with a new, collaborative environment for gathering, sharing, and analyzing evidence and intelligence data.
"About six months into the contract, SAIC was essentially told by the FBI that 'we really want to change what you're doing on this contract,' " recounts SAIC Group President Mark Hughes. " 'Set aside the work you've done to date and what we'd like you to do is work with us to build a brand new case-management system for the FBI. And by the way, we don't have any requirements for that yet, so we need you to work with us to help develop those requirements.' "
According to Hughes, those requirements were almost impossible to nail down, because the FBI's new mission set in motion a rolling transformation of internal processes.
One requirement was a so-called "flash cutover." In other words, says Hughes, "you build this big system, and when it's ready, you turn the old one off and you turn the new one on. To anybody who knows anything about big systems, that's a very risky way to introduce a new system."
SAIC claims that it pushed back on this and other unrealistic requirements. At the time, however, SAIC had a cost-plus-award contract. According to Gartner Fellow John Pescatore, these types of contracts estimate the real cost of a project and add a profit margin that is awarded annually to the contractor -- in full, in part, or not at all, depending on the government's rating of the contractor's performance for that year.
"So here's what happens," Pescatore says. "In the beginning, you never want to say no, because you'll get a bad rating. It essentially incents the contractor to be much more accepting of out-of-scope changes. It's kind of like a mass-suicide pact, except you're hoping a miracle is going to occur later on."