NARA prepares an archive RFP

By year's end, the National Archives and Records Administration will take a big step to help agencies face their colossal electronic records dilemma.

CIO Reynolds Cahoon told lawmakers today that NARA will release a request for proposals by January to build the Electronic Records Archives system.

The ERA solicitation's development follows meetings with more than 72 companies, which led NARA officials to realize a long-term fix requires the creation of a digital archives, he told the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census.

Cahoon, along with national archivist John Carlin and others, testified about the government's progress in assuring its electronic records are usable permanently.

"There is a lot of talk about how agencies do not care about records management, but that is changing," Carlin said. "Everyone from the CIO to the general counsel to the agency secretary realize the importance of records and how important it is to have a good system to keep them."

NARA officials' new understanding comes from two areas, Cahoon said. First, the administration's e-government program has inserted records management at all levels of the Federal Enterprise Architecture. And second, NARA's acceptance of the Defense Department's Records Management Applications standards for software has given agencies more than 40 commercial products to choose from that adhere to a set of common criteria.

"Embedding records management into the component infrastructure of the enterprise architecture will go a long way toward inserting record-keeping processes into federal agencies," Cahoon said. "Anything in the enterprise architecture is approved by the Office of Management and Budget, so that in itself recognizes the important role records management plays in government business."

Linda Koontz, director of information management issues for the General Accounting Office, told the subcommittee that the acquisition of an archival system presents significant challenges for NARA. The agency must improve its ability to buy major systems, develop better information security plans, and do a better job of tracking project costs and schedules, Koontz said. (Click to link to prepared testimony)

Cahoon said NARA is building up its staff and skills to satisfy GAO's concerns. The agency will hire additional employees to support the project and have all its systems accredited and certified as secure by December, he added.

"We believe we are consistent with where we are in regard to the ERA contract," Cahoon said. "We don't disagree with GAO that we need to mature our process, and we are working closely with them to do so."

Jason Miller writes for Government Computer News

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