Electronic Government:

National Archives and Records Administration's Fiscal Year 2011 Expenditure Plan

GAO-11-299: Published: Mar 4, 2011. Publicly Released: Mar 4, 2011.

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Since 2001, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been working to develop an Electronic Records Archive (ERA) to preserve and provide access to massive volumes of all types of electronic records. NARA originally planned to complete the system in 2012, but has repeatedly revised the program schedule and estimated cost and is now planning to deploy an ERA system with reduced functionality by the end of fiscal year 2011. As required by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010, and the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011, NARA submitted an expenditure plan to Congress to support its request for fiscal year 2011 ERA funding. The legislation also requires that this plan meet six conditions, including review by GAO. GAO's objectives in reviewing the fiscal year 2011 plan were to (1) determine whether the plan satisfies legislative conditions, (2) determine the extent to which NARA has implemented prior GAO recommendations, and (3) provide any other observations on the plan or the ERA acquisition. To do this, GAO reviewed the expenditure plan and other agency documents and interviewed NARA officials.

NARA's fiscal year 2011 expenditure plan satisfies four of the six legislative conditions and partially satisfies two. Specifically, it partially satisfies the condition that NARA meet requirements for reviewing the progress of capital investments, such as ERA. While NARA has held regular meetings with senior-level agency management to review ERA progress, these groups did not document approval of important schedule and scope changes, and NARA did not validate the estimated benefits and costs of deployed ERA capabilities. Further, NARA partially satisfies the condition that the expenditure plan be approved by NARA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). NARA approved the expenditure plan in October 2010, but the plan was not approved by OMB. Without approval from OMB, Congress will have limited assurance of the plan's reliability and accuracy. NARA has fully implemented one of GAO's four prior recommendations and partially implemented three. It implemented a recommendation to ensure that ERA's requirements are managed using a disciplined process by, for example, developing a process to keep requirements current. NARA partially implemented three other recommendations. First, to improve its executive-level oversight, NARA documented meetings to review ERA progress, but did not document approval of important changes to a recent phase, or increment, of the system. Second, NARA added information in its expenditure plan on ERA cost, schedule, and performance as recommended, but the plan lacks other key information, such as the estimated costs of an ongoing increment. Third, NARA documented a plan to strengthen its processes for measuring program progress, but continues to have weaknesses in this area, including not accurately portraying ERA program status. GAO has three observations on the expenditure plan and ERA acquisition: (1) The fiscal year 2011 expenditure plan does not provide a reliable basis for informed investment decision making. For example, NARA's cost estimates do not reliably reflect the work to be completed because of weaknesses in its supporting methodology, and the plan does not clearly show what functionality is planned to be delivered in the final year of development, by when, and at what cost. (2) NARA's expenditure plan does not address how remaining multiyear funds from fiscal year 2010 will be allocated. Specifically, NARA's plans for using the remaining $20.1 million are not discussed in the plan. (3) Although NARA recently updated the ERA requirements, the agency has not yet determined which of the requirements would be addressed before the end of development in fiscal year 2011 and has not fully prioritized the requirements to ensure that critical stakeholder needs will be met. Without a reliable expenditure plan and adequate management of the ERA acquisition, it is unclear whether NARA can make substantial progress in delivering additional system capabilities by the end of fiscal year 2011 to justify its planned investment. Congress should consider limiting funding of further ERA development until NARA addresses weaknesses in its oversight and management of the acquisition. GAO is also recommending actions for NARA to take to address these weaknesses. NARA concurred with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) agreed with our recommendation. The agency issued an addendum to its fiscal year 2011 expenditure plan in which it addressed how the balance of $20.1 million in remaining multi-year funds from fiscal year 2010 would be obligated. Specifically, the addendum describes NARA plans to use remaining multi-year funds to issue a new operations and maintenance contract for the Electronic Records Archive (ERA) system, which would include, among other things, performing routine maintenance, integrating additional hardware and software upgrades, and implementing enhancements to the system to make it more user friendly.

    Recommendation: While the current system development contract is active, the Archivist of the United States should immediately report to Congress on the specific outcomes to be achieved with the balance of any previous multiyear funds in fiscal year 2011.

    Agency Affected: National Archives and Records Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) agreed with our recommendation. The agency updated its requirements database with priority levels for the Electronic Records Archive (ERA) requirements planned to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2011. For example, NARA prioritized several ERA requirements related to managing record schedules, which are documents that describe agency records and establish a period for their retention.

    Recommendation: While the current system development contract is active, the Archivist of the United States should immediately ensure that the ERA requirements planned for fiscal year 2011 are fully prioritized so that those most critical to NARA's customers and other stakeholders are addressed.

    Agency Affected: National Archives and Records Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) agreed with our recommendation. The agency implemented changes to its Information Technology Executive Committee meeting process to ensure that significant changes to the Electronic Records Archive (ERA) program are appropriately documented and approved. For example, under its revised process, NARA documented key meeting decisions affecting the ERA program, such as changes to program costs and the removal of certain system functionality. These decisions were subsequently reviewed and signed by NARA's Chief Information Officer.

    Recommendation: To ensure that any future efforts are completed within reasonable funding and time constraints, the Archivist of the United States should ensure that significant changes to ERA's program's cost, schedule, and scope are approved through NARA's investment review process.

    Agency Affected: National Archives and Records Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) agreed with this recommendation. NARA completed post-implementation reviews of Increments 2 and 3 that evaluated, among other things, the investment's costs, benefits, and lessons learned.

    Recommendation: To ensure that any future efforts are completed within reasonable funding and time constraints, the Archivist of the United States should conduct post-implementation reviews of deployed ERA capabilities to validate estimated benefits and costs.

    Agency Affected: National Archives and Records Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) agreed with our recommendation. The agency submitted an updated version of its fiscal year expenditure plan to OMB for review and approval. OMB subsequently approved NARA's revised expenditure plan and NARA later provided the approved plan to Congress.

    Recommendation: To ensure that any future efforts are completed within reasonable funding and time constraints, the Archivist of the United States should submit ERA expenditure plans to OMB for review and approval prior to submitting to Congress.

    Agency Affected: National Archives and Records Administration

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) agreed with this recommendation and stated that the agency will update the Electronic Records Archive Requirements Management Plan when the operations and maintenance contract begins on October 1, 2011. We will evaluate the results of this initiative when it is completed.

    Recommendation: To ensure that any future efforts are completed within reasonable funding and time constraints, the Archivist of the United States should update the ERA Requirements Management Plan and related guidance to mandate requirements prioritization throughout the project's life-cycle.

    Agency Affected: National Archives and Records Administration

 

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