NARA finishes testing first ERA software

The National Archives and Records Administration moved ahead this week with its ongoing project to deploy an archive system to handle the ever-growing swath of agency e-mail messages and other electronic records, after budget shortfalls had forced a protracted schedule for the initiative.

NARA announced Dec. 13 that it had finished testing the first piece of software from Lockheed Martin, the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) system’s prime contractor, which will help the government create and process e-records schedules and requests for e-records transfers.

The installment is the first of a three-phase test schedule for the program that NARA and Lockheed Martin devised after it became clear that the agency could not afford the anticipated $130 million cost for the program’s initial software development. Under the test program, it will cost $60 million to $70 million for the system to be initially ready to develop e-records schedules, request e-record transfers, and inspect and store them by June 2008.

That milestone will mark the completion of the first increment of the ERA project, which is expected to last through 2011. When the $300 million ERA contract was awarded in 2005, officials had hoped that the system would have its initial operating capability by September 2007.

Despite the scale-down and the delay, the test program will still provide NARA with the base for the full ERA program that officials had originally envisioned, said Andy Patrichuk, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of civil mission solutions, which is responsible for the ERA program.

Lockheed Martin said it expects to deliver the second software “drop” toward the middle of next week. It will provide the initial capabilities for actually transferring records.

NARA plans to have four agencies begin to test the software’s capabilities early next year. The agencies are the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Patent and Trademark Office, the Naval Oceanographic Office, and the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

When completed, the ERA project, which NARA says will establish the “Archives of the Future,” which will preserve, manage and provide sustained access to all types of e-records, independent of any specific type of software or hardware. This is important because of the ever-changing formats and technologies.

Officials say that the system will also improve the public’s ability to view and retrieve records without having to physically be at a NARA building. As more digital documents are created, ERA becomes more crucial to NARA’s survival, officials say.

“Frankly there can’t be National Archives for the 21st century without” ERA, Thibodeau said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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