The FBI is facing serious delays and cost overruns as it struggles to upgrade a computer system so agents worldwide can better share intelligence information and investigative files.

An important component of the system, known as the Virtual Case File (search), was originally expected to be operational by Saturday.

Now, officials say, it will likely be several months into 2004 before agents have access on their desktop computers to electronic files that replace paper ones and to a huge new terrorism database containing some 40 million documents.

In addition, the FBI acknowledged Wednesday that the price tag for the overall system, known as "Trilogy," could now top $626 million, far above the original projected cost of $380 million.

FBI Director Robert Mueller has repeatedly said that Trilogy (search) is key to enabling the bureau's to better "connect the dots" and prevent terrorist attacks. Upgrading the FBI's technology gained greater urgency after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, exposed the bureau's inability to do things as simple as e-mail photos.

Two major parts of the system are up and working, including delivery of some 22,000 desktop computers to FBI field offices and creation of a secure network to connect them. The FBI also now has greater bandwidth in its internal systems to move more data, including pictures.

But the General Services Administration (search), which oversees contracts with federal agencies, announced last month that Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) would miss the Dec. 13 deadline for the Virtual Case File component of the system. The delay and higher cost figures were first reported Wednesday by the Chicago Tribune.

The GSA said in a statement Wednesday that it and the contractor are trying to develop a new schedule to get the Virtual Case File framework in place. Once that backbone is finished, the statement said, agents should be able to use Virtual Case File within four to six weeks.

A spokesman for Computer Sciences Corp., based in El Segundo, Calif., says the company "remains committed and confident" that the Trilogy system will work and that the delays in the Virtual Case File component will not affect the ability of agents to use other Trilogy's other tools.