Next time, buy a Mac

Three years and $170 million later, the FBI gives up on an anti-terrorism technology project that never worked.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 9, 2005 12:57PM (EST)

Let's do this again. In his State of the Union address last month, George W. Bush proclaimed: "Taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely, or not at all." Is he living by his own creed?

For more than two years now, the Bush administration has been telling us about the great strides the FBI is making in the world of technology. We were told the bureau is "improving its ability to analyze intelligence." We were told that it was "transforming itself to meet new threats." And it was the president who was telling us all that.

Well then, what do we have here? The FBI announced yesterday that it is scrapping a new computer system that never actually worked -- but only after spending 170 million of those "taxpayer dollars" on it.

As the New York Times explains, the "Virtual Case File" was a software project "considered critical in helping agents investigate terrorism." But last month, a Justice Department inspector general said the FBI had done such a poor job of planning and managing the project that it might need to be scrapped.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said at the time that he was "confident that the bureau is moving in the right direction on the project." He sang a different tune yesterday. "Our ability to handle a project like that was not what I thought it was," Mueller said at a hearing before a panel of the House Appropriations Committee. "It's my fault for not having put the appropriate persons in position to review that contract and assure that it was on track."

But there's still good news here: The FBI is going to get started right away on a replacement system. Mueller said the new project will come in four phases over more than three years. The price in "taxpayer dollars"? Mueller wouldn't -- or couldn't -- say.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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