FBI and SAIC–reputations at stake over software

August 21, 2006

For several months now major news stories have been circulating about the FBI’s $170 million software fiasco. It hasn’t hit the national press too much and seems more focused on the Beltway, but the $580 million plus FBI plan to seriously upgrade their technology seems to have hit a major snag. The blogosphere (including me, I suppose) may extend and magnify the story thereby contributing to a greater reputation risk than appears would exist with the mainstream media alone.

I noticed the story on a blog site–and find there are several commenting on this problem. Then found the story broke in June via the Washington Post. And now is picked up again by the Post in an interesting blame game story.

The reputations of both the FBI and SAIC are strong and will likely not be harmed by this. But can also be seen as a dangerous issue, lurking just beneath the surface and ready to crop up at any moment. The most likely moment for both organizations is when they are under stress from a completely unrelated source. Something else happens that threatens their credibility. Then the accuser or the media (who can be both in one) will do their internet research and come up with this story. A basis will be made for linking the two–however flimsy, and trust will be further eroded.

Even though a $170 million software development project is not going to top of the list of To Dos for the FBI director, look what he had to say about it:

“Mueller’s inability to successfully implement VCF marks one of the low points of his nearly five-year tenure as FBI director, and he has accepted some of the blame. “I did not do the things I should have done to make sure that was a success,” he told reporters last month.

What to do:

– coordinate–this affects both and they had better find ways to stop or discourage the media from playing this kind of blame game. FBI faults the contractor–the contractor concerned about their reputation says their only real fault was continuing to accept payments while knowing that their client was completely screwing up the project.

– get real. The story doesn’t seem credible right now. What’s the deal with the 730,000 lines of code. Are they saying that’s good or bad? Are they really scrapping the whole thing just because there were too many problem reports. After spending this kind of money on custom development, are they really going to off the shelf software? Tell the truth, the Washington Post is doing very schlocky reporting here because what they are saying just doesn’t make sense. It almost feels like the organizations are throwing a few mea culpas and that is OK with the reporter. Unfortunately, the reporting and the weak explanations only make me want to find out more and good communication satisfies the need to know rather than stimulating it. Good communication should be more dessert than appetizer.

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