NARA's costs soared for digital archive, GAO says

Current development costs have risen from $317M to $567m and may go to $1B

Development costs have more than doubled and aren't under control for the National Archive and Records Administration (NARA)’s digital archive project, now projected to cost as much as $1.4 billion over its life cyle, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Since 2001, NARA has been developing the Electronic Records Archive (ERA) to preserve and provide access to a variety of digital records. But due to revisions in the original requirements and weaknesses in applying management control, estimated development costs to complete the current phase have risen from $317 million to $567 million, and are likely to go higher, GAO said in the Feb. 4 report.

GAO estimated that completing the current development phase of the digital archive will rise further from $567 million to $762 million, or possibly as high as $1 billion.


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Also life-cycle costs for the project are projected to increase from $995 million to $1.2 billion or as high as $1.4 billion, GAO said.

The agency said weaknesses in applying Earned Value Management (EVM) principles likely contributed to the cost overruns, and it predicted that the situation will not improve unless the principles are applied.

“Without more useful earned value data, NARA will remain unprepared to effectively oversee contractor performance and make realistic projections of program costs,” GAO said. “Overall, NARA has fallen short in its implementation of EVM to oversee and manage the ERA system acquisition.”

GAO report made 11 recommendations to NARA that include:

  • Performing a gap analysis of the work completed through fiscal year 2011, and the original ERA requirements set, and determining and clearly defining the remaining work.
  • Establishing a comprehensive Phase 2 baseline, as well as a baseline for the total program.
  • Engaging senior NARA leadership/oversight officials to ensure that earned value data are being used for decision-making purposes.
NARA officials generally agreed with the recommendations.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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