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Book The Upgrades, Dano

Sens. Leahy and Grassley are proposing legislation to get the FBI on a better technological footing.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is in dire need of an IT upgrade. That's nothing new--the FBI's struggles with information management became publicly known when the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was delayed because FBI field offices couldn't produce the necessary documents relating to the case. But now Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who have conducted FBI oversight hearings in the last year, are proposing legislation to improve the agency's use of technology.

The senators' 10-point plan for improving FBI information management and technology, which was unveiled Thursday, calls for enhancements such as implementing a public key infrastructure for exchanging critical information securely and improving application testing and the process for system upgrades. The plan is designed to help the agency get a handle on problems such as an instance in which software that wasn't adequately tested was deployed to automate the process of doing background investigations and proved unable to scale to handle a large workload, says an aide in Leahy's office.

The plan was developed based on recommendations from FBI chief technology officer Bob Dies, the aide says. The FBI wasn't available to comment on the proposed legislation.

Improvements are in order, says Ray Bjorklund, VP of consulting services at Federal Sources, a firm that analyzes the federal government's use of IT. "For an organization that has a key role in homeland security and has to be in an information-sharing role on a near real-time basis with other federal agencies, its critical the FBI get its IT systems upgraded."

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