GAO sees electronic archive problems

"Records Management: National Archives and Records Administration's Acquisition of Major System Faces Risks"

The National Archives and Records Administration's long-term program to store and retrieve electronic records lacks several key elements, including a vision for the system from the user's perspective and a mechanism to track the program's cost and schedule, according to a General Accounting Office report.

NARA is developing the Electronic Records Archive as a permanent way to store, search and access federal records, no matter what technology originally created it. Officials plan to release the request for proposals for the system by the end of this year, and expect it to start operating by the end of 2006.

However, GAO's evaluation of the program for Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) — chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies' subcommittee — found several deficiencies in NARA's plan for the acquisition, including:

— An incomplete target enterprise architecture.

— No concept of operations for the system from the users' perspective.

— Several unfilled management positions.

— An incomplete schedule and process to track the costs of the program.

That last item is one of the most common program management problems across government, and is a source of great concern for such a large and expensive system.

"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, quality problems may limit the usefulness of the resulting system, and the system may not be delivered according to established milestones," the report states.

Agency officials have updated their policies and plans, with several new strategy pieces coming into place throughout August and September, according to a letter from U.S. Archivist John Carlin. The agency is also in the middle of filling the open management positions and revising the enterprise architecture.

But the biggest change is that NARA is implementing a programwide scheduling and management analysis tool "that will provide program control capabilities not currently available," Carlin wrote. That tool will be in place by January 2004.

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