Failure to develop ERA system is not an option, archivist says
The National Archives and Records Administration awarded Lockheed Martin a $308 million contract last week to develop the national archives of the future the Electronic Records Archives (ERA).
Lockheed Martin and Harris had been dueling for a year for the contract to build the system, which could be worth $500 million.
ERA is the first effort to save the government's records regardless of format and make them available on future hardware and software. It will start as a Web portal, but its architecture will adapt to changing technology.
Speaking at a news conference last week, U.S. Archivist Allen Weinstein said the undertaking "requires success in a climate of urgency, since there is an unprecedented number of electronic records now being created by the government's departments and agencies, all of which is headed toward NARA."
Weinstein added that without ERA, many of the records related to President Bush could not be available to future generations.
"Failure is not an option" for the ERA, he said. "The stakes for our country are simply too high."
Although NARA officials said they are pleased to have the difficult procurement decision behind them, they acknowledged that a winning design does not solve the problem of preserving an ephemeral, ever-growing volume of electronic information.
ERA "is not a panacea," Weinstein said. "It is a good start, a beginning, a major first step and it comes at a critical time in our history."
NARA officials expect to release the first ERA implementation in 2007.
Lockheed Martin President Don Antonucci told Weinstein that the company would deliver an open, flexible and scalable solution that will set standards for authenticity and persistence.
The company's team includes BearingPoint, Fenestra Technologies, FileTek, EDS, History Associates, MÃ©tier, Image Fortress, Science Applications International Corp. and Tessella.
Harris officials said they have no plans to protest the award.
"It was a tough competition," said Sleighton Meyer, a Harris spokesman. "We've got to congratulate Lockheed on winning. It's a very important project."
NARA officials also took the opportunity to present members of the newly created ERA Advisory Committee.
The 20-member board will confer with the archivist on matters relating to the ERA system's development and use.
So far, NARA has appointed about 17 outside experts in computer science, records management, law, history and education.
A handful of the new members attended last week's press conference, including Internet pioneer Robert Kahn, now chairman, chief executive officer and president of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives.
ERA will need file name standards to eliminate manual labor in migrating records between old and new systems, Kahn said.
"Standards are the glue that holds an open architecture system together," he said.
Advisory committee members also caught their first glimpse of ERA in action through a brief demonstration.
Lockheed Martin engineers illustrated how an archivist would preserve an e-mail message with a spreadsheet attachment by clicking a few buttons. ERA would save the original record and generate an audit trail that would list the preservation processes performed on the record throughout its life cycle.
"It has tremendous potential, especially for state government," said David Carmicheal, president of the Council of State Archivists and an advisory committee member. "It seems to take into account that the future may be very different from what we have now."
The next step will be two years of system development to provide means of preservation and access. "We have an overall design," said Ken Thibodeau, ERA program director. "What the pieces are, we don't know yet."
Lockheed Martin will test each development on typical users in a laboratory setting, he said.
ERA's public role
National Archives and Records Administration officials say electronic records archiving will serve the needs of the public as well as the government. For example, doctors could access a patient's past electrocardiograms, regardless of changes that have occurred in machine hardware and storage since the test was performed.
NARA will decide on which Electronic Records Archives (ERA) services it will provide free, which it will charge for and which the private sector should offer.
Ken Thibodeau, ERA program director, said users might pay a fee if they want a 10,000-document compilation in CD format.
He said NARA wants the public to know that ERA will have all historic materials, from paper records of the Civil War to the 9-11 Commission report in PDF, in one place.
"One of the things I worry most about is ... [making] sure it's there for them to discover we have it," Thibodeau said.
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