NARA must improve ERA expense plan

Before they authorize full funding for the National Archives and Records Administration’s flagship digital archives program, congressional appropriators say they want the agency to provide a more detailed expense plan.

NARA officials have assured auditors and appropriators that they will deliver a revised plan and a working system on time.

A Government Accountability Office report released Aug. 18 states that NARA has improved its fiscal 2006 expenditure plan for the digital system, called the Electronic Records Archives.

ERA is a $308 million project to preserve government records and make them accessible on future hardware and software.

The GAO review was required under NARA’s fiscal 2006 appropriations bill. The agency wants about $22 million for the primary contractor, Lockheed Martin, to develop the system.

GAO officials told appropriators in May that the expenditure plan did not contain the level and scope of information necessary. For example, it did not contain details on how NARA plans to allocate funding among planned tasks or what infrastructure elements — including software and hardware — the agency must buy and how they fit into the overall system design.

However, the recent GAO report states that NARA has made progress in addressing other legislative conditions for funding approval and has satisfied more than half of the requirements.

“If NARA complies with the legislative conditions and implements our recommendations, the agency should be better positioned to successfully acquire the ERA system,” the auditors wrote.

In a written response to a draft of the report, NARA officials told GAO that they would submit a revised expense plan by September. NARA still intends to meet that deadline, ERA Program Director Ken Thibodeau said last week. The program has sufficient funding to stay on schedule, he added.

Congress approved all but $5 million of NARA’s expenditure plan in June, Thibodeau said. The remainder of the allocation is contingent on NARA supplying the additional expenditure details outlined in the GAO report. Thibodeau said that money isn’t needed immediately.

Staffers confirmed that the House and Senate appropriations committees did approve most of the spending with the expectation that they will receive an updated plan in September.

“NARA has made progress in moving forward with the ERA project and with addressing concerns in regard to the planning and oversight of the project,” said Tom Gavin, a spokesman for the minority office of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “There is still work to do in terms of applying that same level of planning and oversight to the entire NARA information technology systems and investments, many of which are interdependent with the ERA system.”

Janet Gottfredsen, a spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin, said company officials expect to reach NARA’s goal of providing initial operating capability for ERA by September 2007, provided the appropriate funding is authorized.

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