Will NARA be ready for Bush's e-records?

A key portion of the National Archives and Records Administration’s decade-long, $453 million project to create an electronic records archiving system might not be ready in time to receive the Bush administration’s electronic records, according to government auditors and the agency’s inspector general.

NARA’s Electronic Records Archives (ERA) system has faced a series of delays and cost overruns since September 2005, when the agency awarded Lockheed Martin a six-year, $317 million cost-plus-award-fee contract to build the information technology system. NARA and Lockheed Martin officials say the base ERA system — with reduced capabilities — will be ready by the end of June, and a separate system for the presidential records — the so-called EOP system — will be available by the end of the year.

However, on May 14, Linda Koontz, director of information management issues at the Government Accountability Office, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security Subcommittee that the timeframe for the presidential records system remains in jeopardy.

“I think this is a system still at risk,” she said. “I would agree to the need for a mitigation plan.”

NARA officials said they have an alternate plan in case the system is not ready in time for the presidential transition. NARA and Lockheed Martin officials also say they will merge the EOP system, which uses a commercial product, into the base ERA system to create the originally envisioned consolidated system by its 2011 goal.

Company officials said they worked with NARA early in the contract to scale down the capabilities of the base ERA system after it became clear that funding issues were going to prevent NARA from spending the anticipated $130 million for the program’s initial software development. Instead, the base ERA system that will develop e-record schedules, request e-record transfers, and inspect and store records will cost about $60 million.

However, Koontz said a history of delays with the ERA project, a tight schedule, and negotiations between NARA and Lockheed Martin on the system’s specifics and scope of work translate into uncertainty over whether the EOP system will be completed in time.

NARA and Lockheed Martin agreed to develop the EOP system and the base ERA system in separate but concurrent increments after issues with contractor performance and software integration caused NARA to issue a cure notice to Lockheed Martin in July 2007.

At the May 14 hearing, NARA officials said the initial problems were the result of Lockheed Martin not initially deploying an “A team” to work on the project.

“Basically, we were concerned about the development of the system long before Lockheed Martin admitted that they weren’t going to make the deadlines,” said Adrienne Thomas, the U.S. deputy archivist, at the hearing.

Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Anna DiPaola said the company has worked with NARA to address the issues and that since the new schedule came out, the company has met the program’s milestones and budget.

“In the evolution of any complex state-of-the-art integration program, we continue to add skills and personnel to meet the emerging challenges and evolving requirements of the program,” she said.

DiPaola said the program is still on track to be completed on time and within budget in 2011.

However, according to GAO, NARA has estimated current cost overruns for ERA’s development at $16.3 million.

Koontz credited NARA for intervening with the cure notice  but said NARA officials had not received details from the White House about the incoming records, which has complicated planning for the EOP system.

According to Koontz, NARA estimates that the Bush administration will be sending 100 terabytes of data — 50 times what it received from the Clinton administration.

Paul Brachfeld, NARA’s inspector general, told the subcommittee that he only learned that the Bush administration had not instituted a new electronic records management system from press reports and that he was never told about issues NARA was having with the White House. The controversy around the Bush administration’s efforts to store and archive electronic records, such as e-mail, is separate from NARA and Lockheed Martin’s ERA project. However, ERA will play an important role when the Bush administration's e-records are turned over to NARA for safekeeping at the end of Bush's term.

“I was not afforded the opportunity to address a significant condition [that] will potentially impact a major NARA program that falls under my jurisdiction,” he said in written testimony.

Brachfeld said he approached the previous archivist about the need for audit coverage for ERA in late 2001 but was not able to staff a dedicated ERA audit position until last fall — almost six years later. He added that the current archivist has been supportive of his work, but he chastised the agency’s managers for not giving him the resources and information to investigate ERA’s troubles.

For example, he said that in June 2007, the ERA director told him the program was on schedule, only to issue a cure notice the following month. He also said that if he had been notified earlier about issues regarding White House e-mail messages, he could have gotten involved and perhaps made a difference.

He added that he and his staff had been concerned about ERA for quite a while, and he was not surprised by the problems with the project.

“There is no substitute for skilled IG oversight,” he said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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