Electronic Records Archive:

The National Archives and Records Administration's Fiscal Year 2009 Expenditure Plan

GAO-09-733: Published: Jul 24, 2009. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 2009.

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Since 2001, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been developing an Electronic Records Archive (ERA) to preserve and provide access to massive volumes of electronic records independent of their original hardware and software. The ERA system is to include a base system for federal records and a separate system for presidential records, known as the Executive Office of the President (EOP) system. The 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act requires NARA to submit an expenditure plan for ERA to congressional appropriation committees. GAO's objectives were to (1) determine whether NARA's fiscal year 2009 plan meets the legislative conditions set forth in the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, (2) provide an update on NARA's progress in implementing recommendations made in GAO's review of NARA's 2008 expenditure plan, and (3) provide any other observations about the expenditure plan and the ERA acquisition. To do this, GAO reviewed the expenditure plan, interviewed NARA officials, and reviewed program data and documentation.

NARA's fiscal year 2009 expenditure plan satisfies the six legislative conditions in the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act. NARA implemented one of GAO's prior recommendations and partially implemented the other. Specifically, NARA developed a risk mitigation plan for the EOP system in the event that it was not ready in time for the presidential transition in January 2009. In addition, NARA began including summaries of performance against ERA cost and schedule estimates in its monthly reports to Congress. However, during its review, GAO found methodological weaknesses that could limit NARA's ability to accurately report on program cost, schedule, and performance. GAO made four observations on NARA's expenditure plan and the ERA acquisition: (1) The expenditure plan does not specifically identify whether completed system increments include all planned functionality or what functionality will be included in future increments, including the outcomes NARA expects from the remainder of its fiscal year 2009 funding. Until NARA fully describes the outcomes expected from this funding, Congress will lack important information for evaluating the agency's requests for funds. (2) The expenditure plan states that it relies on Earned Value Management (EVM), a tool for project management intended to provide objective reports of program status. However, NARA is not fully implementing practices necessary to make effective use of EVM, limiting the reliability of its progress reports. Without consistently following these best practices, NARA will be hindered in accurately monitoring and reporting on the cost, schedule, and performance of the ERA system. (3) Although NARA certified initial operating capability for the EOP system in December 2008, less than 3 percent of the electronic records from the Bush Administration had been ingested into the system at the time of GAO's review, and NARA did not expect the remainder to be ingested until October 2009. In the interim, NARA is using systems developed in accordance with its risk mitigation plan to support the search, processing, and retrieval of presidential records. These systems cost less than $600,000, compared with the $40 million NARA has obligated for the EOP system. Until NARA completely ingests the Bush Administration records into EOP, it will be unable to use the system for its intended purpose. (4) NARA lacks a contingency plan for the ERA system in the event of a failure or disruption. While NARA identified 11 security weaknesses related to contingency planning during system testing and planned actions to address them, it has completed only 1 of the 11 planned actions. Further, NARA does not have a fully functional backup and restore process for ERA, a key component for ensuring system availability. Until NARA fully develops and tests a contingency plan, it risks prolonged unavailability of the ERA system in the event of a failure or disruption.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • 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: The Archivist of the United States should include in NARA's next expenditure plan an analysis of the costs and benefits of using the EOP system to respond to presidential records requests compared to other existing systems currently being used to respond to such requests.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since 2001, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been developing an Electronic Records Archive (ERA) to preserve and provide access to massive volumes of electronic records independent of their original hardware and software. The ERA system includes a system for presidential records, known as the Executive Office of the President (EOP) system. The 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act required NARA to submit an expenditure plan for ERA to congressional appropriation committees and for us to review the plan. Our review of the NARA's fiscal year 2009 expenditure plan and ERA acquisition observed that EOP system was not fulfilling its intended purpose of ingesting electronic records of the George W. Bush administration to support search, processing, and retrieval of records for use by authorized users. Since not all Bush presidential records were ingested into the EOP system, NARA had to use other alternative systems to respond to requests for presidential records. As of April 24, 2009, NARA had received 43 special access requests for information on the Bush Administration. Only one of these requests used EOP for search, and no responsive records were found. To respond to 24 of these requests, NARA used replicated White House systems to manage a records management system and an image database. According to NARA officials, these replicated systems cost $570,000 to put into service. Accordingly, we recommended that NARA include in its next expenditure plan an analysis of the costs and benefits of using the EOP system to respond to presidential records requests compared to other existing systems currently being used to respond to such requests. NARA implemented our recommendation by incorporating in its 2010 expenditure plan a detailed explanation of alternatives considered, disadvantages of these alternatives, advantages, and the cost of using the EOP system to respond to presidential records requests compared to that of other existing systems. By implementing our recommendation, Congress will now have information about additional costs that NARA incurs to maintain other systems used to support requests for Bush presidential records.

    Recommendation: The Archivist of the United States should strengthen the earned value process so that it follows the practices described in GAO's guide and more reliable cost, schedule, and performance information can be included in future expenditure plans and monthly reports.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Between 2001 and 2012, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) developed an Electronic Records Archive (ERA) to preserve and provide access to massive volumes of electronic records independent of their original hardware and software. The 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act required NARA to submit an expenditure plan for ERA to congressional appropriation committees and for us to review the plan. Our review of the NARA's fiscal year 2009 expenditure plan and ERA acquisition observed that NARA was not consistently following best practices for earned value management. We recommended that NARA strengthen its earned value process to follow the processes outlined in a guide we published on this topic. NARA agreed, and in response to the recommendation, revised its internal guidance on earned value management. It also initiated efforts to apply the new guidance to the ERA project. As a result of following a more robust earned value process, NARA management had a more reliable basis to evaluate the ERA program's progress.

    Recommendation: The Archivist of the United States should provide detailed information in future expenditure plans on what was spent and delivered for deployed increments of the ERA system and cost and functional delivery plans for future increments.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Between 2001 and 2012, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) developed an Electronic Records Archive (ERA) to preserve and provide access to massive volumes of electronic records independent of their original hardware and software. The 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act required NARA to submit an expenditure plan for ERA to congressional appropriation committees and for us to review the plan. Our review of the NARA's fiscal year 2009 expenditure plan and ERA acquisition observed that the cost, schedule, and performance information provided in NARA's plan did not provide a clear picture of the project's progress. We recommended that the Archivist provide more detailed information in future plans. NARA agreed with the recommendation, and provided more specifics in subsequent plans. For example, in its 2011 plan, NARA detailed what was spent the previous year, the estimated costs of work planned for the coming year, and planned changes to the system's capabilities. As a result of the improved information provided by NARA, Congressional appropriators had a more reliable basis for making decisions about whether to provide NARA with additional funds.

    Recommendation: The Archivist of the United States should report to Congress on the specific outcomes to be achieved by ERA program funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2009.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since 2001, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been developing an Electronic Records Archive (ERA) to preserve and provide access to massive volumes of electronic records independent of their original hardware and software. The 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act required NARA to submit an expenditure plan for ERA to congressional appropriation committees and for us to review the plan. Our review of the NARA's fiscal year 2009 expenditure plan and ERA acquisition observed that NARA's 2009 expenditure plan did not specifically identify whether completed system increments included all planned functionality or what functionality will be included in future increments, including the outcomes NARA expected from the remainder of its fiscal year 2009 funding. Accordingly, we recommended that NARA report to Congress on the specific outcomes to be achieved by ERA program funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2009. NARA agreed and implemented our recommendation by providing quarterly reports to Congress that identified outcomes to be achieved with the remainder of ERA program funding for fiscal year 2009. These reports covered reporting periods March-June 2009 and July-September 2009. The reports included information on program costs, schedule, and performance. By implementing our recommendation, Congress received important information for evaluating the NARA's requests for funds.

    Recommendation: The Archivist of the United States should develop and implement a system contingency plan for ERA that follows contingency guidance for federal systems.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since 2001, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been developing an Electronic Records Archive (ERA) to preserve and provide access to massive volumes of electronic records independent of their original hardware and software. The ERA system is to include a base system for federal records and a separate system for presidential records, known as the Executive Office of the President system. The 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act required NARA to submit an expenditure plan for ERA to congressional appropriation committees and for us to review it. Our review of the NARA's fiscal year 2009 expenditure plan and ERA acquisition observed that NARA lacked a contingency plan for the ERA system in the event of a failure or disruption. While NARA identified 11 security weaknesses related to contingency planning during system testing and planned actions to address them, it had completed only 1 of the 11 planned actions. Further, NARA did not have a fully functional backup and restore process for ERA, a key component for ensuring system availability. We recommended that NARA develop and implement a system contingency plan for ERA that follows contingency guidance for federal systems. NARA agreed and implemented our recommendation by developing and testing an ERA contingency plan. Testing was completed on August 5, 2009, and the plan was finalized on September 16, 2009. By implementing our recommendation, NARA reduced the risk of the prolonged unavailability of the ERA system in the event of a failure or disruption.

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