Online Materials Discussing NARA Electronic Records Management Problems, 1999-2003


NARA Materials



   Contains links to materials on NARA (i) Electronic Records Management (ERM); (ii) Records Management Initiative (RMI); (iii) Records Lifecycle Business Process Reengineering (BPR); and (iv) Other Records Management Initiatives.

   Links to guidance products that have been developed as part of the ERM Initiative.

   NARA project to facilitate the transfer of electronic records to the National Archives for preservation and future use by Government and citizens by developing: (i) Additional transfer methods; (ii) Additional transfer formats; and (iii) Records management and archival metadata standard.





GAO 1999 Report: National Archives: Preserving Electronic Records in an Era of Rapidly Changing Technology  (Go to source)
    GGD-99-94, July 19, 1999


        "Even though NARA is aware of the efforts of DOD, NASA, OTS, and various other agencies, it does not now have governmentwide data on the records management capabilities and programs of all federal agencies. NARA had planned to do a baseline assessment survey to collect such data on all agencies by the end of fiscal year 2000. . . . In the early results in the pilot test of the survey at a limited number of agencies, NARA discovered that most of the pilot agencies lacked adequate employee guidance regarding electronic records. The Archivist has decided to put the baseline survey on hold primarily because of what he believes are other higher priority activities, such as NARA’s BPR effort, which could change NARA’s regulations and thereby affect the data that NARA would need to acquire from the agencies.. . . NARA officials could not give us a time frame regarding when the survey effort would be reinitiated."

        * * *
        Currently, NARA does in-depth studies of two to four agencies a year in which it looks at the agencies’ records management policies and then recommends areas for improvement. Since some individual agencies have not been reviewed for several years, this method of collecting information on agencies has not yielded a current governmentwide look at the situation. Thus, this effort does not achieve NARA’s strategic planning goal to 'stay abreast of technologies in the agencies.'" (p.9)



GAO 1999 Testimony: National Archives: The Challenge of Electronic Records Management  (Go to source)
    T-GGD-00-24, October 20, 1999

        "NARA had planned to determine how well agencies were complying with requirements for retention, maintenance, disposal, retrieval/accessibility, and inventorying of electronic records. The Archivist decided, however, to temporarily postpone doing this baseline survey because he accorded higher priority to such activities as reengineering NARA’s business processes. NARA’s BPR will address its internal processes as well as guidance and interactions with agencies."


NARA Press Release on Loss of NARA Email, 2000  (Go to source)
    Statement by the National Archives and Records Administration on the Loss of Electronic Copies of Certain Internal E-Mail Messages

        College Park, MD. . .On January 6, 2000, the Washington Post published a story about the loss last summer by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of some electronic messages. Here are the facts of the situation."



SRA Report on Current Recordkeeping Practices within the Federal Government  

    December 10, 2001

        "Government employees do not know how to solve the problem of electronic records – whether the electronic information they create constitutes records and, if so, what to do with the records. Electronic files that qualify as records?particularly in the form of e-mail, and also word processing and spreadsheet documents are not being kept at all as records in many cases and are frequently not being scheduled. Employees lack guidance and knowledge concerning how to identify electronic records and what to do with them once identified. Technology tools for managing electronic records do not exist in most agencies. The agency information technology environments have not been designed to facilitate the retention and retrieval of electronic records. Despite the growth of electronic media, agency records systems are predominately in paper format rather than electronic. Virtually every agency visited indicated that the official policy is that their records will be maintained in paper format. Yet the agencies recognize that most records are now created in an electronic environment in word-processing documents, spreadsheets, databases, and the like. The predominant e-mail policy is to print out e-mails that are considered records and to save the paper copies. The chief paradox of today’s Federal RM is the disconnect between paper and electronic recordkeeping. * * *

        Electronic records maintenance. Both teams uncovered the finding that records in electronic formats and systems were not appropriately managed. The RSA data indicated that most electronic records were not scheduled and are maintained outside the official realm of retention and disposition requirements."



GAO 2002: Information Management: Challenges in Managing and Preserving Electronic Records  (Go to source)
    GAO-02-586, June 17, 2002

        "NARA completed an assessment of the current federal record keeping environment in 2001 which concluded that although agencies are creating and maintaining records appropriately, most remain unscheduled, and records of historical value are not being identified and provided to NARA for archival preservation. Although NARA plans to improve its guidance and to address technology issues, its plans do not address the low priority generally given to records management programs, nor the issue of systematic inspections. Recognizing the limitations of its technical strategies to support preservation, management, and sustained access to electronic records, NARA is planning to design, acquire, and manage an advanced electronic records (ERA) system. However, NARA is behind schedule for the ERA system, largely because of flaws in how the schedule was developed. Further, to acquire a major system like ERA, NARA needs to improve its information technology management capabilities."



E-archiving still lacks enforcement  (Go to source)
    By Diane Frank, Federal Computer Week, March 10, 2003

        "Although the National Archives and Records Administration continues to develop guidance and technology to preserve agencies' electronic records, millions of records could be lost because archiving policies have not been enforced, experts said last week. . . .

        * * *
        But many records, created with now-obsolete and unavailable technology, may already be inaccessible. Many documents, for example, were created with word processing software that is no longer available. Although agency officials could have electronic versions, there may be no way to access them."



National Research Council Report: Building an Electronic Records Archive at the National Archives and Records Administration  (Go to source)
    Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB), Report and PDF Book Online, 2003

        "More preliminary work is required in setting expectations for the system and estimating its size and scope before NARA can start procuring a workable production system. This includes (1) characterizing the electronic records that the ERA should be expected to ingest in the near term and (2) making pragmatic engineering decisions and defining realistic requirements and priorities. Only by jointly considering archival and technical concerns can NARA chart a course to meet its preservation mandate with achievable IT systems." (Summary, p.6)



NARA's skills gap: Report suggests records agency needs more IT expertise  
    BY Diane Frank, June 9, 2003

        The National Academies' Computer Science and Telecommunications Board outlined several recommendations for the National Archives and Records Administration in its interim report on the Electronic Records Archives program.
        The National Academies' recommendations:
        * Work with other archiving programs and organizations on common digital preservation needs.
        * Gather more information about the electronic records that need to be preserved before moving forward with a modular procurement.
        * Address the lack of information technology expertise within the National Archives and Records Administration by training current employees, hiring new ones with specialized skills and contracting out for support.
        * Start with a small number of focused pilot programs that will eventually converge into a comprehensive system."



GAO 2003: Electronic Records: Management and Preservation Pose Challenges  (Go to source)
    GAO-03-936T, July 8, 2003

        "Complex electronic records are being created in volumes that make them difficult to organize and keep accessible. These problems are compounded as computer hardware, application software, and even storage media become obsolete, as they may leave behind electronic records that can no longer be read. As a result, valuable government information may be lost. GAO was requested to testify, among other things, on NARA's recent actions to address the challenges of electronic records management, including its effort to address the problem of preserving electronic records by acquiring an advanced Electronic Records Archive (ERA)"


2003 House Committee Hearing on Electronic Records Management  
    Wiring Our National Archives
    Federal Electronic Records Management Review, July 7, 2003

        "It is imperative that Federal agency records are properly managed. These records are ultimately the people’s records and their tax dollars at work.
        The importance of records management goes to the ability of Federal agencies to function properly. Without a strategy, important records can be misplaced, or even lost. This not only hinders day-to-day efforts of operation, but also has significant ramifications on the national archival process. The challenge of record management has become compounded by the fact that an increasing number of records are generated electronically rather than on paper.
        Currently, many agencies are not submitting their record schedules to NARA. So it is likely that these agencies are simply accumulating all these records, or could even be misplacing or losing records, or destroying records. This can impede the ability of agencies to complete necessary daily functions as well as resulting in the loss of historically valuable or legally required documents."



NARA plots ambitious e-archiving system  
    BY Nancy Ferris, Federal Computer Week, July 14, 2003

        "officials from GAO are recommending that NARA institute a program timeout so it can reassess and fix the system's acquisition strategy. NARA officials, however, say they already are implementing GAO's recommendations and no further delay is needed.
        * * *
        Agency officials believe information systems create about half of agency records. Most records are not saved, and those that are saved generally are kept in the form of printouts, according to testimony."



GAO sees electronic archive problems  
    BY Diane Frank, Federal Computer Week, Aug. 22, 2003

        "The National Archives and Records Administration's long-term program to store and retrieve electronic records lacks several key elements, including a vision for the system from the user's perspective and a mechanism to track the program's cost and schedule, according to a General Accounting Office report. GAO found several deficiencies in NARA's plan for the acquisition, including:
        - An incomplete target enterprise architecture.
        - No concept of operations for the system from the users' perspective.
        - Several unfilled management positions.
        - An incomplete schedule and process to track the costs of the program."



NARA’s plan for archival system lacks detail, GAO says  
    By Vandana Sinha, Government Computer News, August 25, 2003

        "The National Archives and Records Administration is missing key elements in its plan to build an advanced electronic archiving system, the General Accounting Office has reported."



Practice makes perfect, Commentary by Timothy Sprehe  
    Federal Computer Week, September 1, 2003.

        "The sad fact is that NARA has virtually no practical knowledge of handling electronic records. Sure, the agency houses untold masses of e-records, the largest collection in the world, but NARA officials are clueless about managing e-records."


Senate Committee Appropriations Report Concerning the Electronic Records Archive  (Go to source)
    September 8, 2003 - In reporting the Transportation, Treasury And General Government Appropriations Bill, the Senate Committee refuses to approve $35.9 million requested for NARA's Electronic Records Archive:


        Electronic Records Archives.--National Archives and Records Administration [NARA] is developing an Electronic Records Archives [ERA] that will ensure the preservation of and access to Government electronic records. ERA will preserve electronic records generated in a variety of formats, and enable requesters to access them on computer systems now and in the future. The upcoming system development tasks include completing a systems requirement specification, system architecture, and system design for ERA.
        The Committee recognizes that the development of ERA is a substantial undertaking due to the sheer volume and complexity of the records that are generated by the Federal Government.  This effort is further complicated by the dynamic and evolving nature of information technology development and the fact that this is the first system of its kind.

        The General Accounting Office [GAO] and the National Academies of Science have reviewed NARA's initial development plans for ERA, identified areas of risk, and made recommendations for improvement. In particular, the Committee is concerned with the GAO's assertion that NARA may be unable to independently track the cost and schedule of the ERA project. Given both the importance and obvious magnitude of ERA, the Committee intends to carefully monitor NARA's acquisition plans, staffing levels and ability to meet established deadlines. In that regard, the Committee directs GAO to provide a further progress report on NARA's development of ERA and to report its findings to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations by May 22, 2004."