Records Management:

National Archives and Records Administration's Acquisition of Major System Faces Risks

GAO-03-880: Published: Aug 22, 2003. Publicly Released: Aug 22, 2003.

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Increasingly, government records involve documents that are electronically created and stored. In support of its mission to manage and archive these records and ensure access to the "essential evidence" that they contain, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is acquiring an advanced Electronic Records Archives (ERA). GAO was asked to determine, among other things, how the ERA program's system acquisition policies, plans, and practices conform to industry standards and how well NARA is meeting the ERA program's cost and schedule.

The ERA program's acquisition policies, plans, and practices do not consistently conform to industry standards. In developing the plans and policies to guide its acquisition of the ERA system, NARA elected to follow recognized industry standards set forth by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). However, key policy and planning documents are missing elements that are required by the standards. For example, one key document is the concept of operations, which should describe the characteristics of a proposed system from the users' viewpoint. The ERA Concept of Operations does not include several key elements required by the IEEE standard, including a complete description of the proposed system. Because these policy and planning documents form the basis of the acquisition, such shortcomings could result in serious long-term risks to the cost, schedule, and performance of the ERA program. NARA cannot adequately track the cost and schedule of the ERA program. A comprehensive schedule with an appropriate work breakdown structure is a prerequisite to program tracking, as it allows managers to measure how well the program is achieving its cost and schedule goals. To achieve upcoming major milestones, the program must successfully complete a complex series of tasks. However, the program schedule omits significant tasks and activities; for example, it does not include the process to reengineer the agency's life cycle business processes, which will be crucial to defining requirements. In addition, the schedule lacks a work breakdown structure, which would allow accurate estimates of the resources and time required for each work activity. If NARA cannot track how well the program is meeting cost and schedule, the risk is increased that funds may not be used efficiently or effectively, quality problems may limit the usefulness of the resulting system, and the system may not be delivered according to established milestones.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NARA has addressed weaknesses in tracking cost and schedule by developing an ERA schedule that is based on a comprehensive work breakdown structure. The structure appropriately links tasks with associated costs and other resources and links successor and predecessor tasks.

    Recommendation: Further, the U.S. Archivist should direct the NARA Chief Information Officer to immediately address weaknesses in tracking cost and schedule by developing an ERA schedule that is based on a comprehensive work breakdown structure (including associated costs and other resources) and establishes dependencies between successor and predecessor tasks.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: National Archives and Records Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NARA filled all key government staff positions for the ERA program.

    Recommendation: To reduce the risks associated with NARA's efforts to design and acquire the Electronic Records Archives, the U.S. Archivist should direct the NARA Chief Information Officer to address weaknesses in the acquisition policies, plans, and practices by filling key vacant ERA positions.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: National Archives and Records Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NARA revised the ERA Quality Assurance Plan, renamed the ERA Quality Management Plan, to provide processes and procedures specific to the ERA program and conform to IEEE standards. The agency also established a vigorous, independent ERA quality assessment process and provided the staffing resources necessary to ensure that quality assessment duties are performed effectively.

    Recommendation: To reduce the risks associated with NARA's efforts to design and acquire the Electronic Records Archives, the U.S. Archivist should direct the NARA Chief Information Officer to address weaknesses in the acquisition policies, plans, and practices by revising the ERA Quality Assurance Plan to conform to appropriate industry standards, establishing a vigorous, independent ERA quality assessment process, and providing the staffing resources necessary to ensure that quality assessment duties are performed effectively.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: National Archives and Records Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NARA revised the ERA Risk Management Plan to provide processes and procedures specific to the ERA program, and the document conforms to IEEE standards.

    Recommendation: To reduce the risks associated with NARA's efforts to design and acquire the Electronic Records Archives, the U.S. Archivist should direct the NARA Chief Information Officer to address weaknesses in the acquisition policies, plans, and practices by revising the ERA Risk Management Plan to provide processes and procedures specific to the ERA program.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: National Archives and Records Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NARA revised the ERA Acquisition Strategy to conform to IEEE standards and the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

    Recommendation: To reduce the risks associated with NARA's efforts to design and acquire the Electronic Records Archives, the U.S. Archivist should direct the NARA Chief Information Officer to address weaknesses in the acquisition policies, plans, and practices by revising the ERA Acquisition Strategy to conform to IEEE standards and the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: National Archives and Records Administration

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NARA revised the ERA Concept of Operations. The revised version includes a complete description of the current and proposed systems and substantially conforms to IEEE standards.

    Recommendation: To reduce the risks associated with NARA's efforts to design and acquire the Electronic Records Archives, the U.S. Archivist should direct the NARA Chief Information Officer to address weaknesses in the acquisition policies, plans, and practices by revising the ERA Concept of Operations to conform to IEEE standards, including a complete description of the current and proposed systems.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: National Archives and Records Administration

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to agency officials, the program did not revise the ERA Life Cycle document to conform to IEEE standards because responsibility for developing and maintaining the ERA life cycle was transferred to the program's development contractor as part of the August 2005 systems development contract.

    Recommendation: To reduce the risks associated with NARA's efforts to design and acquire the Electronic Records Archives, the U.S. Archivist should direct the NARA Chief Information Officer to address weaknesses in the acquisition policies, plans, and practices by revising the ERA Life Cycle document and associated procedures and practices to conform to IEEE standards.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: National Archives and Records Administration

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ERA is using earned value management techniques to capture status and monitor progress for the entire program.

    Recommendation: Further, the U.S. Archivist should direct the NARA Chief Information Officer to immediately address weaknesses in tracking cost and schedule by using earned value management to capture and monitor progress for the entire ERA program.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: National Archives and Records Administration

 

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