Information Management:

The National Archives and Records Administration's Fiscal Year 2008 Expenditure Plan

GAO-08-1105: Published: Sep 26, 2008. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 2008.

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To preserve and provide access to all types of electronic records, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been developing an Electronic Records Archive (ERA), including a base system for federal records and a separate system for presidential records, known as the Executive Office of the President (EOP) system. As mandated by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, NARA must submit an expenditure plan to the Congress that satisfies six conditions. GAO was asked to determine the extent to which NARA's fiscal year 2008 expenditure plan satisfies the conditions and provide any other observations about the plan and the ERA acquisition. To do this, GAO reviewed the expenditure plan, interviewed NARA and contractor officials, and reviewed additional documentation.

NARA's fiscal year 2008 expenditure plan satisfies five of the six legislative conditions and partially satisfies the remaining condition. NARA satisfied the conditions that the plan follow capital planning and investment controls established by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB); comply with NARA's enterprise architecture; comply with the acquisition rules, requirements, guidelines, and system acquisition management practices of the federal government; be approved by NARA and OMB; and be reviewed by GAO. NARA partially satisfied the remaining condition: that ERA conform to the agency's enterprise life cycle methodology. This methodology requires, among other things, that the agency identify, communicate, and mitigate program risks. NARA has identified numerous project risks and reported them to OMB and the Congress, including the risk that it will not have the capability to process the Bush administration's presidential records at the time of the January 2009 presidential transition. However, the agency has not yet developed a plan to mitigate this significant risk. Instead, the agency intends to develop a mitigation plan at the end of 2008, when it expects to know more about the types and volumes of presidential records that it is to receive. This proposed schedule, however, will leave NARA little time to prepare for and implement the plan, decreasing the assurance that it will be adequately prepared to meet the requirements of the Congress, the incoming President, and the courts for information contained in the previous administration's records. In addition, GAO observed that monthly ERA status reports that NARA has been providing to the Congress since January 2008--while including useful information on the project's activities, expenditures, and risks--do not include summary measures of the project's performance against cost and schedule estimates--information that NARA does provide to OMB. According to agency officials, such measures are not included in the monthly reports because the reports follow an agreed-upon format. However, these measures provide an important perspective on project progress not otherwise available. If future reports do not include such measures, the Congress may be hampered in its ability to effectively oversee the program.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that NARA can fulfill its critical responsibilities during the upcoming presidential transition, the Archivist should develop a mitigation plan for indexing and searching the electronic records from the outgoing Bush administration in the event that the EOP system is not complete. The plan should be completed in time to be fully implemented for the January presidential transition.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2008, we reported on the National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) development of a system to preserve and search electronic presidential records, called the Executive Office of the President (EOP) system. This system was designed initially to receive electronic records from the outgoing Bush administration and to respond to requests for access to these records. We reported that NARA had identified that there was a risk that the EOP system would not be ready in time for the January 2009 transition, and as such, NARA was at risk of not being able to respond to requests for access to the Bush administration's presidential records. We determined that NARA had not yet developed a plan to mitigate this significant risk. Accordingly, we recommended that NARA develop a mitigation plan for indexing and searching the electronic records from the outgoing Bush administration in the event that the EOP system was not complete. In response, NARA developed a mitigation plan to assure acceptance and ingestion of presidential electronic records. This plan stated that NARA would obtain copies of the proprietary software used by the Bush White House and use those programs to answer requests for access to presidential records, until those data could be successfully ingested into the EOP system. Because NARA had successfully ingested only a small percentage of the Bush administration records into the EOP system as of May 2009, it used the replicated systems described in the mitigation plan to answer most requests for electronic presidential records up to that time. By implementing the plan we recommended, NARA was able to fulfill a core mission requirement by responding to requests for presidential records.

    Recommendation: To enhance oversight of the ERA project, the Archivist should ensure that summary measures of project performance against ERA cost and schedule estimates are included in future monthly reports to the Congress.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2008, we reported on the development of the Electronic Records Archive (ERA) system that is being developed for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This system is intended to preserve and provide access to massive volumes of all types and formats of electronic records, including presidential records. Specifically, we reported that the monthly ERA system status reports that NARA provided to Congress did not include summary measures of the project's performance against cost and schedule estimates. We therefore recommended that NARA ensure that these summary measures are included in future monthly reports to Congress. As we recommended, in July 2008, NARA began including an Earned Value Summary as an appendix to its monthly reports to Congress. This summary data included the ERA system's schedule and cost performance status. Similar data were also included in NARA's subsequent monthly reports. Inclusion of this information can help the Congress to more effectively oversee the ERA program by providing an important perspective on project progress not otherwise available.

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