Monday, March 7, 2011

NARA ERA spending plan 'not reliable,' says GAO

NARA ERA spending plan 'not reliable,' says GAO: "

An October 2010 spending plan submitted by the National Archives and Records Administration for the final developmental year of its Electronic Records Archive project failed in several key ways, says the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO, in a report dated March 4 but based on a presentation given to congressional appropriations subcommittees on Dec. 21, says the NARA plan is an unreliable basis for informed decision making. Namely, the plan's cost estimates aren't reliable because of weaknesses in the supporting methodology, and it doesn't clearly show what functionality ERA managers plan to deliver and by when.

NARA awarded Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) a $317 million cost plus award fee contract in 2001 to develop the system; since then, the program has come under repeated scrutiny for lateness and cost overruns. In July 2010, the Office of Management and Budget directed NARA to halt developmental activities by Oct. 1, 2011. NARA is examining which requirements it can drop but also considering the start of a second developmental phase, according to another GAO report, dated Jan. 13. NARA could need up to $1 billion total to finish the system  as planned, says the watchdog agency.

NARA had originally planned to spend $88.5 billion on ERA during the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, but apparently due to the funding uncertainties for this particular year, also prepared plans for lower amounts. In a continuing resolution approved Feb. 19 by the House of Representatives that would fund agencies for the remainder of the current fiscal year, NARA would get $72 million with $52 million of that to be available to NARA until Sept, 30, 2013.

(The House legislation ran into opposition in the Senate, so both chambers approved yet another short-term continuing resolution that funds the government through March 18; negotiations are said to be ongoing.)

GAO criticism encompasses NARA fiscal 2011 plans at any spending level, however. Other defects include lack of post-implementation review of currently deployed ERA capabilities; Office of Management and Budget approval of the fiscal 2011 ERA plan (which NARA was supposed to gain); and lack of documentation on schedule and scope changes to a recent ERA increment.

NARA officials told GAO auditors that when it came to selecting which requirements to implement before the end of fiscal 2011, they were unsure because the requirements were still the subject of negotiations with Lockheed Martin.

National Archivist David Ferriero told auditors in a letter dated Feb. 15 that NARA is preparing an addendum to the fiscal 2011 spending plan.

Meanwhile, NARA announced March 4 on its official blog that it has a rollout schedule for when agencies will start using ERA and that it's met with eight agencies already to discuss rollout plans.

'We have asked agencies to begin using ERA for scheduling and/or transferring permanent records to NARA during their start month. Although the amount of work they generate in ERA is at their discretion, we ask that once they start using ERA for a particular ERA function, they continue to use ERA,' the official blog post states.

For more:
- download the report, GAO-11-299
- read the NARA official blog post on ERA and see the rollout schedule

Related Articles: 
NARA: Most agencies at risk of bad records management 
GAO: NARA archives system would cost up to $1 billion to complete 
NARA announces reorganization


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