Electronic archive funding preserved

The effort to build an electronic records archive would receive $22.3 million in the proposed fiscal 2003 budget, representing the project's second big infusion of cash.

This year, $20 million is being spent to assemble the electronic archive.

With most government records now created on computer screens, not on paper, the National Archives and Records Administration is working to develop a way to preserve them in electronic form. It's not as easy as it sounds.

Because electronic document formats and electronic equipment become obsolete and are abandoned after a few years, electronic documents cannot simply be stored as they were created. They would become unreadable as old formats vanish and old hardware disappears.

NARA is working with computer science institutions to develop a way to preserve documents, photos, maps, spreadsheets and other records in digital form but independent of the formats that were used to create them. That way, digital documents are expected to remain readable for hundreds of years despite changes in technology.

A small-scale prototype of the archive is scheduled to be operational in 2004 or 2005. A full-size electronic archive is expected to cost at least $130 million.

With progress on the electronic archive under way, NARA also plans to focus in 2003 on developing electronic records management rules. The agency hopes to begin "piloting governmentwide procedures and standards for managing electronic records," according to budget documents.

NARA is asking for $263.9 million for 2003, an increase from this year's $259.3 million budget.

In addition to the electronic archive, NARA has budgeted $7 million to train state and local personnel on the proper use and handling of classified and sensitive information related to homeland security.

The record-keeping agency also plans to study technology that might be useful in preserving and providing access to its massive collection of 20th-century military records. The records, mostly on paper, now are stored in boxes on shelves in huge repositories.

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