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GAO: Archives' Proposed System Lacks Key Elements

The National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) proposed Electronic Records Archive (ERA) project is missing key elements of recognized industry standards, according a new report by the General Accounting Office (GAO). Earlier this month, the House Appropriations Committee approved a $22 million budget increase to NARA for the project.

Charged with preserving government records in perpetuity, NARA says electronic records "pose the biggest challenge ever" due to the rate of technological obsolescence combined with the expanding number of diverse electronic records created on different systems within the government.

The ERA project is NARA's strategic response to the challenge of preserving, managing, and providing access to electronic records. NARA says ERA will authentically preserve and provide access to any kind of electronic record, free from dependency on any specific hardware or software. The agency plans to release a request for proposals by the end of the year.

The GAO report, requested by Rep. Ernest Istook (R.-Okla..), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies' subcommittee, says NARA can not at this time adequately track the cost and schedule of the ERA program.

"If NARA cannot track how well the program is meeting cost and schedule, the risk is increased that funds may not be used efficiently or effectively," the GAO report states.

In developing the plans and policies for the ERA project, NARA elected to follow the project development standards of set forth by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

The GAO report says the ERA Concept of Operations does not include several key elements required by the IEEE.

"A comprehensive schedule with an appropriate work breakdown structure is a prerequisite to program tracking, as it allows managers to measure how well the program is achieving its cost and scheduling goal," the report states. "To achieve upcoming major milestones, the program must successfully complete a complex series of tasks. However, (the ERA) program schedule omits significant tasks and activities."

Other problems found by the GAO include an incomplete target enterprise architecture and a lack of description of the characteristics from the end user's perspective.

U.S. Archivist John Carlin said his agency is working to address the problems before releasing the request for proposals.