National Archives to end development of e-records project

GAO report says costs could balloon to $1.4 billion

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The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will end development of its electronic records archive (ERA) by the end of this year, in part due to a recent government report showing massive cost overruns and mismanagement on the project.

The purpose of the ERA, planning for which began in 2001, is to preserve large volumes of electronic records independent of their original hardware and software. The system, part of which is accessible to the public, includes federal records and databases, as well as a separate repository for presidential records, known as the EOP (Executive Office of the President) system.

In a report last month, the Government Accountability Office blamed schedule delays and current and projected cost overruns in the hundreds of millions of dollars on poor oversight and planning by the NARA. In 2005, the NARA awarded Lockheed Martin $317 million to build out the records archive.

Additionally, the GAO stated that the NARA has not established a sound baseline for measuring contractor performance, and the performance data measured against that flawed baseline is unreliable. "This hampers NARA's ability to produce reliable estimates of cost and completion," the report stated.

The cost of building a digital system to gather, preserve and give the public access to the records of the federal government has ballooned as high as $1.4 billion, and the project could go as much as 41% over budget, according to government auditors. "In contrast, the contractor's estimated cost overrun is $2.7 million," the GAO report stated. "Without more useful earned value data, NARA will remain unprepared to effectively oversee contractor performance and make realistic projections of program costs."

The GAO report showed that over the past decade, the NARA has repeatedly revised the ERA's program schedule and increased the estimated costs for completion from $317 million to $567 million.

"Until NARA addresses these underlying issues ... the ERA system, at full operational capability, will likely be deployed at least 67 months behind schedule (in March 2017)," the GAO said.

While the volume of data the electronic archive stores will continue to grow, the development of new archival systems to store that data will end this year.

On its Web site, the NARA claims that there are no "out-of-the-box" or "off-the-shelf" products available for the volume and complexity of records the agency must handle and that "therefore, the ERA system development is one of custom engineering and integration."

David Lake, ERA communications manager, said his agency has taken the GAO's report to heart but added that the the NARA's cost-overrun estimates are based in part on project development stretching out to 2017.

"By 2017, what we would have spent is pretty unclear," Lake said.

According to Lake, by the end of this year, the NARA will have spent an estimated $463 million on the ERA for development and program management costs.

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