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Since 2001, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been working to develop a modern Electronic Records Archives (ERA) system — a major information system that is intended to preserve and provide access to massive volumes of all types and formats of electronic records. According to NARA, this major information system is estimated to cost between $456 and $481 million and is intended to preserve and provide access to massive volumes of all types of electronic records, independent of their original hardware or software. NARA plans for the system to manage the full life-cycle of electronic records, consisting of the following six key functions:
- Ingest enables the transfer of electronic records from federal agencies.
- Archival storage enables stored records to be managed in a way that guarantees their integrity and availability.
- Records management supports scheduling, appraisal, description, and requests to transfer custody of all types of records, as well as ingesting and managing electronic records, including the capture of selected records data (such as origination date, format, and disposition).
- Preservation enables secure and reliable storage of files in formats in which they were received, as well as creating backup copies for off-site storage.
- Local services and control regulates how the ERA components communicate with each other, manages internal security, and enables telecommunications and system network management.
- Dissemination enables users to search descriptions and business data about all types of records and to search the content of electronic records and retrieve them.
NARA originally planned to complete the system in 2012, but has repeatedly revised the program schedule and estimated cost. As a result, the system is being developed incrementally over several years; the first system increment is to provide an initial set of functions, with additional capabilities to be added in future increments.
However, in 2007, NARA’s contractor acknowledged that it would not be able to meet the planned date for the initial operational capability of the first ERA increment. NARA worked to overcome the ERA schedule delays by changing to a two-pronged development strategy, but uncertainties remain.
First, NARA developed plans to achieve an initial operational capability for the ERA system in June 2008 with somewhat reduced capabilities from those that had been planned. For this initial system, known as the “base” system, software development deadlines have been met, and testing began on schedule. However, NARA has extended some test periods beyond what was originally planned, leaving less time at the end of the schedule for completing final activities. Problems uncovered through testing could lead to delays in implementation.
Second, the development delays of 2007 put at risk NARA’s plan to use ERA to receive the presidential records of the Bush Administration in January 2009. In response to this risk, NARA and its contractor are pursuing a parallel development of a separate part of the system that is to be dedicated initially to the Bush records; this part of ERA — referred to as the "EOP (Executive Office of the President) system" — uses a different architecture from that of the base system: it is being built on a commercial product that can provide basic requirements for processing presidential electronic records, such as rapid ingest of records and ability to search content. Pursuing this as a separate development decouples the EOP system from dependence on the base system.
However, completing the EOP system in time for the presidential transition remains uncertain, primarily because NARA and its contractor are still negotiating the precise scope of work and system requirements. These negotiations are challenging because, among other things, NARA does not know the exact nature of the presidential records that it is to receive in 2009.
In July 2010, the Office of Management and Budget directed NARA to halt development of the ERA system at the end of fiscal year 2011 (a year earlier than planned). OMB cited concerns about the system’s cost, schedule, and performance and directed NARA to better define system functionality and improve strategic planning. Through fiscal year 2010, NARA had spent about $375 million on the system.