GAO & NARA Spar Over Electronic Records Archive Cost

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently issued a report questioning the completion date, final cost and capabilities of the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) Electronic Records Archive (ERA). Since 2001, NARA has been working to develop an IT system to preserve and provide access to massive volumes and all types of electronic records. NARA has repeatedly revised the program schedule and increased the estimated costs for completion of the project.

According to GAO, trends indicate that future cost overruns will likely be between $195 million and $433 million to fully develop ERA as planned and between $205 and $405 million at program end. GAO also found that the ERA system, at full operational capability, will likely be deployed at least 67 months behind schedule (in March 2017) and that the total life cycle cost for the program could be at least $1.2 billion (a 21 percent increase).

In response to the GAO report, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero questioned the findings, citing recent improvements in the development of the system that will allow it to be completed this coming September and at less cost than originally planned. Ferriero stated, “Our detailed records show that system development for ERA will total $282 million for the period ending in September 2011; including operations and maintenance costs, the total will be $463 million.”

GAO also questioned NARA’s ability to utilize a best practices concept known as “earned value management (EVM).” EVM is a project management approach that provides objective reports of project status and unbiased estimates of anticipated costs at completion. GAO found many problems and delays have been caused “in part because NARA lacks a comprehensive EVM policy, training, and specialized resources.”