Why I Left the FBI to Start a Software Company: Part 1
By Scott Baugher
Part 1 of 2
Read Part 2 Here
Let’s Start at the Beginning
For me the path from technology executive to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent and then back again was not an obvious one. It all started in 2000, toward the end of the “dot com” boom, when I joined a technology start-up in the Los Angeles area and I soon became their Chief Technology Officer. By 2003, with the company on a clear path to success, and eager to spread my wings beyond my home state, I began to look for what was next.
I applied to the FBI because it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After spending a year going through the background check process, I arrived at the FBI academy in June of 2004, not knowing what the future would hold.
The Special Agent Experience
Working for the FBI turned out to be an incredible experience. Prior to working there, my knowledge of law enforcement was of the “as seen on TV” variety. But after joining the law enforcement community, I was humbled by the dedication of the men and women of the FBI, as well as the state and local partners with whom we served. Having grown up in a relative suburban “bubble”, I had no idea what law enforcement officers handled on a day-to-day basis. I quickly fell in love with the profession, and found my home with those in the trenches with me.
“Yesterday’s Technology Today”
I would forgive you for thinking the FBI must have had the most cutting edge technology out there. In some ways you would have been right, but not when it came to information technology systems. I was completely unprepared for a case management system that utilized a green screen terminal, which looked like it was straight out of 1985 (see photo on the right). The FBI had been trying to create a more up-to-date system for years. Their trials and tribulations building a modern case management system are well documented, and pre-date my time at the agency. Their first effort, Virtual Case File (VCF), ended in failure shortly after I started my FBI career in 2004. By 2008, the FBI’s second effort, with a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars, was well underway.
A Slight Detour
About four years into my career with the FBI, the opportunity to get involved with the FBI’s newest case management effort, Sentinel, presented itself. I jumped on it, not because I was eager to dust off my programming skills, but because I hoped I might be able to play some small part in moving the FBI’s case management system into the modern era. This was where I first met my eventual co-founders at Kaseware, Dorian Deligeogres and Nathan Burrows.
Sentinel’s struggles were real, and fairly well documented by DOJ OIG reports and various FBI press releases. While I will not delve into the gruesome details here, you can imagine that projects on the road to success don’t typically involve partial, and then full stop work orders, as the original Sentinel project had.
What I pictured when I imagined the FBI’s case management software.
An example of “green screen” terminal software.
A Bold Plan
So how did we snatch success from the jaws of defeat? By doing what countless law enforcement officers across the country do every day — staying focused on the mission. I knew that the FBI could not afford another case management failure. If Sentinel suffered the same fate as VCF, the men and women of the FBI were going to be without a modern case management system for many more years to come.
Dorian and Nathan initially looked at me as though I’d suggested we build our own space shuttle when I laid out a plan to build the system ourselves. However, seeing no other possible path to success, we eventually did just that.
It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again
Following Sentinel’s successful launch, I found myself hearing from various state and local law enforcement partners that they wished their home agencies had a modern, user-friendly case management system of their own. I was shocked to learn (though I probably should not have been), that their systems were equally out-of-date and difficult to use. I saw the impact the eventual success of Sentinel had on the FBI, and I realized we could make an equally positive impact on the broader law enforcement community. With that in mind, in 2013, I approached Dorian and Nathan. Could we do it again?
To be continued…
Sentinel has had a tremendous impact on the FBI and has won many awards.
- A Decade and $451M Later, FBI Computers Just Now Working Together // Source: ABC News
- FBI’s Sentinel Project: 5 Lessons Learned // Source: Information Week
- Who Killed the Virtual Case File? How the FBI Blew More Than $100 Million on Case Management Software It Will Never Use // Source: IEEE Spectrum
- FBI Announces Deployment of Sentinel // Source: The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation
- The Ultimate Case Management Challenge // Source: Kaseware
- Why I Left the FBI to Start a Software Company: Part 2