Bush's exit to put new e-records system to the test

The US Government Accountability Office and others question the readiness of its new Electronic Records Archives program.

The system is charged with the following:

  • Ingesting electronic records from federal agencies.
  • Managing records storage in a way that guarantees their integrity and availability.
  • Enabling users to search descriptions and business data about all types of records and to search and retrieve their contents.
  • Supporting records management functions such as scheduling, appraisal, description and requests to transfer custody.
  • Preserving records in the formats in which they were received, as well as creating backup copies for off-site storage.

To that end, the system is a mix of off-the-shelf and custom-built components, based on a service-oriented architecture and incorporating Oracle's database technology, EMC's Documentum for records management, search technology and a Web-based front end. It also incorporates a hierarchical storage system from Hitachi that blends servers from EMC, Hitachi and Sun, as well as the Hitachi Content Archive Platform, which automatically indexes records as they enter the system, enabling immediate search capability.

The first glitch with the system was a missed deadline by Lockheed Martin, which NARA contracted with to build the system, in September 2007 (see timeline at the end of this story). Thibodeau says this occurred in part because shortly after rewarding the contract to Lockheed, NARA discovered it needed to cut the budget in half, which resulted in rescoping the system's initial capabilities. This effort took the better part of a year, according to Thibodeau, as well as the time and attention of Lockheed engineering management.

To speed things up, NARA and Lockheed also decided to use a two-pronged approach to developing the system. In this approach, the first prong -- or the base system, which was completed in June -- manages record schedules, requests record transfers and stores records. NARA plans to beta-test this system for a year, working with just four agencies from which it accepts records. So far, Thibodeau says, there have been 16 records transfers. Other functionalities, such as the ability to automatically inspect and appraise records, were delayed for later increments.

The second prong is the system dedicated to the presidential records, originally called the Executive Office of the President (EOP) system, and now referred to as Search and Access ERA. This system is being developed in parallel with the base system, and the two will be merged as originally envisioned by 2011.

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Mary Brandel

Computerworld (US)
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