GAO: More specifics needed on e-archive project

Government auditors say the National Archives and Records Administration must provide a more detailed expenditure plan to congressional appropriators to get future funding for the agency’s flagship digital archives program.

The Government Accountability Office released a report Aug. 18 on NARA’s fiscal 2006 expenditure plan for the program, called the Electronic Records Archives. ERA is a $308 million project to preserve government records regardless of format and make them accessible on future hardware and software.

NARA's fiscal 2006 appropriations act requires that the agency submit an expenditure plan before obligating funds for the ERA program, according to the GAO report. The agency is seeking about $22 million for the primary contractor, Lockheed Martin, to develop the system.

“NARA cannot obligate the $21,780,000 for the development contract with Lockheed Martin until Congress reviews and approves the expenditure plan," GAO officials said.

NARA’s expenditure plan does not contain the level and scope of information Congress needs to understand system capabilities, benefits, schedules and costs.

For example, the plan does not contain details on:

  • How NARA will allocate the $22 million requested among planned tasks.
  • Infrastructure elements — including software and hardware — that NARA is to procure or how those elements will fit into the overall system design.
  • What is meant by an “automated workflow capability” and its relationship to system requirements and benefits.
  • The portion of the work on business applications that Lockheed Martin will complete during fiscal 2006 with the funds requested.
"Without this information, Congress does not have the information needed to oversee plans and progress on the acquisition of the system," the GAO report states.

The agency has made progress in addressing prior GAO recommendations, however. NARA has strengthened information security with a program that includes agencywide risk assessments, implemented a document review process to ensure that recommendations from reviewers are addressed in acquisition policies and plans, and improved federal records management by raising agencies’ awareness of records management principles and programs.

The report, which was addressed to House and Senate appropriations subcommittees, states that NARA has satisfied more than half of the six legislative conditions for funding approval. One of the major remaining tasks is to appoint a group to regularly review ERA and other ongoing information technology investments, including those that work with ERA.

"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 said.

Today, NARA officials said the ERA program has sufficient funding to stay on schedule.

The agency told GAO officials that it would submit a revised expenditure plan by September, the GAO report states. NARA still intends on meeting that deadline, said Ken Thibodeau, ERA program director.

Congress approved all but $5 million of NARA's expenditure plan in June, he added. The remainder of the allocation is contingent on NARA supplying the additional expenditure details outlined in the GAO report.

"There’s no impact on the program,” Thibodeau said. “We weren’t planning on spending that $5 million by November anyway. We’re fine financially."

Thibodeau said that after the GAO conducted its review, NARA established an IT executive committee to review all IT investments, including ERA.

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