GAO: Weaknesses threaten Electronic Records Archive program

Audit shows NARA lacks a detailed strategy for fiscal 2009 expenditures and a backup plan for a system failure.

The National Archives and Records Administration must provide more detailed information on its progress creating a system to store the federal government's electronic records, and develop a better contingency plan in case the system fails, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Auditors found NARA's 2009 spending strategy did not specify the outcomes or capabilities the agency expected to achieve with funding for the Electronic Records Archive, which will house the federal government's massive volumes of electronic records independent of their original hardware or software.

"Cost, schedule and performance data in the expenditure plan do not provide a clear picture of ERA system progress," the report stated.

NARA also has made very little progress on adding records from the Bush administration into a piece of ERA called the Executive Office of the President system, the report (GAO-09-733) stated. Less than 3 percent of electronic records from the Bush presidency had been entered into the EOP system at the time of the review, and NARA officials did not expect the rest to be added until October.

In the interim, NARA is using an alternate system to access Bush administration records that is not independent of the original software and hardware used to store the data. The alternate system costs less than $600,000, as opposed to the nearly $40 million that has been obligated for EOP, the report said. Because of the large discrepancy, the report recommended NARA perform a cost-benefit analysis of moving forward with EOP.

Additionally, auditors found NARA lacks a contingency plan in the event of a system failure or service disruption. They recommended the agency develop and implement a contingency plan as soon as possible, since a failure or disruption could result in prolonged downtime for the system.

In comments on the report, acting Archivist Adrienne Thomas said officials are developing a contingency plan. But she disagreed with GAO's observation that the EOP system is not fulfilling its purpose. She attributed the delay in transferring Bush administration records to problems with the copies of data provided to NARA by the White House, and said the data issues have since been resolved.

NARA officials told GAO the 2009 spending plan's lack of specificity was due to ongoing negotiations with its contractors.