Electronic Records Archives needs more oversight, auditors say

Congressional watchdog recommends NARA take steps to ensure sufficient oversight of $567 million program

The National Archives and Records Administration should improve oversight and planning for its half-billion dollar-plus information technology project to build a system to upload, store, preserve and disseminate electronic records of all sorts, according to congressional watchdogs.

After a review of the fiscal 2010 spending plan for the Electronic Records Archives, the Government Accountability Office concluded that NARA lacked key oversight documentation for the program. GAO also said NARA's plan lacked specific plans for completing the final two increments of the ERA project.

Congress required GAO to review NARA’s spending plan to determine whether it was in compliance with congressional conditions. Overall, GAO found NARA’s plan satisfied five of six conditions and partially satisfied the sixth.

The findings were given to congressional staffers in a briefing in April. The findings were made public in a GAO report released June 11.

“Addressing these weaknesses is becoming even more critical as the projected completion of the project approaches; if they continue, it will be increasingly unlikely that NARA will be able to deliver the ERA system by 2012 with the capabilities originally envisioned or to effectively use the system to meet the needs of its users in support of NARA’s mission of preserving and providing access to the nation’s electronic records,” wrote David Powner, GAO’s director of information technology and management issues, in the June report.

Related stories: NARA digs out of digital avalanche | Ferriero takes on NARA's modernization challenges

However, commenting on a draft of the materials used to brief staffers in April, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero disagreed with that assessment. Ferriero said that since ERA experienced delays and cost overruns during the first increment of the project, NARA has strengthened its management oversight of the program. Ferriero said he was concerned the briefing didn't accurately describe the current state of the ERA program.

“Our history of success, both in terms of accomplishments, schedule and cost, does not seem to support your observation regarding assurances that ERA will not be able to avoid additional cost increases and schedule delays or that it is unlikely that NARA will be able to deliver a system by the planned date of 2012 that will effectively can be used to meet the needs of its users in support of NARA’s mission,” Ferriero wrote to Powner in a letter dated April 2 that was released as part of the June report.

GAO’s report also made some more general observations about the ERA program and NARA’s 2010 spending plan. For example, GAO noted that the estimated life-cycle cost for ERA had risen during the past three years from $531 million to the current estimate of $567 million.

In its June report, GAO recommended that Ferriero ensure:

  • NARA’s investment review process has adequate executive-level oversight by maintaining documentation of reviews of the program, including changes to cost and schedule.
  • ERA’s requirements are kept current and managed in away that makes them traceable throughout the project.

Ferriero detailed actions that NARA is taking in response to GAO’s recommendations in a letter dated May 21 to Powner that was included in GAO’s report.

Ferriero said NARA staff now documents the minutes and actions of meetings where the ERA program is discussed to deal with GAO’s conclusion about senior management oversight of the program.

In addition, Ferriero said NARA has started an intensive review ERA requirements in the context of new technologies and changing business needs. He added that NARA managers met in April to determine top ERA functional priorities to be completed by the end of the current contract that NARA has for the program. Those priorities are being mapped to underlying contract requirements and will update the program’s requirements document as appropriate, Ferriero wrote.


About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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