For ERA, now there are two

Harris Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. will compete during the next year to design a blueprint for the National Archives and Records Administration's ambitious $500 million Electronic Records Archives program, a digital preservation project that one analyst described as priceless.

Last week, NARA officials announced design contracts worth about $20 million, with the Lockheed award valued at $9.5 million and the Harris award valued at $10.6 million. Each company proposed a different approach to the long-term preservation problem, said Kenneth Thibodeau, ERA program director. "It's a different way of cutting the pie," he said.

An earlier cost estimate for actually building NARA's electronic archives was $130 million, well below the $500 million estimate officials offered last week.

But some observers view the project as invaluable.

"No matter what it costs, this is worth doing," said J. Timothy Sprehe, a records management expert and president of Sprehe Information Management Associates Inc.

Sprehe said he was not surprised by the ballooning price. He had concerns, however, about the preliminary design plans sketched by Harris and Lockheed Martin officials. "They've put way too many

eggs in one basket by taking a grand design approach," he said, adding that he prefers a step-by-step approach to help deal with the problem of technology becoming obsolete. "At the same time," he said, "I wish them well."

Last week, Thibodeau offered a brief synopsis of the two design approaches, saying that both offer ways to incorporate technology changes over time. An evolving framework of hardware and operating systems will sit at the top three levels of the Harris system, allowing it to continually adapt to hardware and software changes, he said.

Lockheed Martin's single-level system will have front, middle and back sections, Thibodeau said. It will be rolled out in five phases and will have an interface designed to improve recordkeeping, he added.

NARA officials emphasized that electronic archiving will solve problems beyond the federal government's own needs, making it possible, for example, for doctors to gain access to a patient's electrocardiograms, regardless of changes

that have occurred in machine hardware and storage since the test was

performed.

The new records archives will be a dynamic system for preserving virtually any kind of electronic record, no matter what format it is in, the officials said.

By 2007, they expect to have an operational archive in place based on one of the two teams' designs.

On the Harris team are Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., CACI International Inc. and Information Manufacturing Corp.

Members of the Lockheed Martin team are BearingPoint Inc., EDS Corp., Fenestra Technologies Corp., History Associates Inc., Science Applications International Corp. and Tessella Inc.

Sternstein is a freelance writer in Potomac, Md.

***

NARA€s big challenge

National Archives and Records Administration officials must quickly determine how to preserve official government records produced in the Digital Age. It€s a challenge that officials at no other organization have solved, and the pressures on NARA officials to be successful are great. Among them:

Federal agencies are creating untold numbers of diverse and complex digital records.

Information technology quickly becomes obsolete.

Federal agencies are losing digital data daily.

No known system exists for preserving digital records for future generations.

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