An Electronic Records Archives (ERA) Update
"Mark my words, ERA is going to change the world as we know it."
- John W. Carlin, Archivist of the United States
One of the most critical issues facing the Federal Government in the 21st
century is the challenge of record-keeping. Record-keeping issues are critical for us at
the National Archives and Records Administration because we hold in trust for
the American people the records of all three branches of our Government, from
the Declaration of Independence to the military service records of our nation's
veterans to the certificates validating the votes of the Electoral College.
And what makes our job so challenging is that we are responsible for preserving
electronic records and making them accessible to the public. We are responsible
for these records forever.
Thanks to technology that's now a part of our daily lives, Federal records
today come in an amazing variety of electronic formats.
Keeping them safe was an easy job when we just had ASCII
files and databases. Now we are faced with very complicated and diverse range
of electronic documents such as records from geographic information systems, web
pages, image files, email with attachments, computer-assisted design drawings, and more.
Companies have been extremely successful at developing
new information technology and record formats for creating, using and accessing
information. Much less attention has been paid to solutions for preserving and
accessing electronic records for future generations.
It is the goal and mission of the National Archives to provide the citizens of the
United States ready access to the essential records of the United States Government.
NARA's success in this mission has lead NARA to search for viable solutions.
NARA cannot do this alone. And now, thanks to support from the Administration and the
Congress, years of research and development, and our partnerships with
other Federal agencies, state and local governments, universities, other
national archives, international consortiums, and the private sector, we are on
the brink of creating the Electronic Records Archives.
What is the Electronic Records Archives?
The Electronic Records Archives (ERA) is NARA's strategic response to the
electronic records challenge.
NARA's strategic plan challenges the agency to "build a practical,
affordable, automated system for tracking and using records throughout their
lifecycle" and to "change our own records lifecycle work processes to minimize
and simplify routine scheduling requirements and support more effectively and
efficiently the needs of our customers."
ERA will give us the means to preserve and provide sustained access to the
Federal Government's electronic records of continuing value, and to provide
economical storage and retrieval services for electronic records
that remain under the legal control of the
The goal of the ERA program is to enable NARA to preserve and provide access to
any type of electronic record created anywhere in
the Federal Government. ERA, as NARA's strategic response, will provide a
comprehensive, systematic, and dynamic means of preserving and providing
continuing access to authentic electronic records over time.
Although there are many challenges ahead, ERA will provide NARA with the
capability to preserve Government electronic records even as they continue to grow in
volume, complexity, and diversity. ERA will utilize new technologies to preserve,
manage, and provide sustained access to electronic records. NARA will develop
standards for transferring new types of records to NARA, ensuring the records are
authentically preserved and accessible once they are transferred, and
NARA will continue to support new technologies in order to meet the full end-to-end
requirements for ERA.
Benefits of the Electronic Records Archives
The ERA system will allow us to transcend both space and time, ensuring that
electronic records created today are still accessible by our
great grandchildren. ERA will enable NARA to fulfill its mission, and will be
of direct value to other Federal agencies. ERA will enable NARA to improve its
services to other agencies, and make it easier for agencies, the Congress,
and the Administration to transfer electronic records to NARA. ERA will pursue
advances in technology, and we are working closely with
our partners to ensure that this technology is evolvable, scaleable and
extensible. ERA will be available for use by state and local governments, the
private sector, and other institutions to meet their needs to preserve
electronic records over time.
E-commerce, e-Government, manufacturing, research, education, and cultural activities
are all hampered by technological obsolescence. ERA is attempting to preserve
electronic records independent of the hardware and software that created them.
Developments in technology make it easier, faster and less expensive to produce,
use and share information, but they threaten the survival of information
needed in business and other activities. The ERA system will be a catalyst
to the development of innovative ways that any institution can use to carry
digital information into the future as easily as they can send it
around the world today.
2004 ERA Milestones and Accomplishments
August 2004, NARA awarded two contracts for the systems analysis and design efforts to
Harris Corporation and to the Lockheed Martin Corporation. The base year is a limited
competition during which the contractors will compete for the award of the
Development Option which will actually build the Electronic Records Archives.
In 2005, NARA will select one contractor and award the contract option
to proceed with development of the system.
Other significant 2004 accomplishments included:
- NARA received Congressional budget signed by the President for ERA funding
to support the award of two contracts to produce competing designs for the
- NARA published the ERA Requirements Document, ERA Legacy Transition Plan, ERA
Life Cycle, and Enterprise Architecture to set guidelines for potential bidders
to evaluate in order to understand the scope and complexity of building the ERA
system for NARA.
- After issuing the Request for Proposal, NARA awarded two base year contracts
for the Systems Analysis and Design Phase (SA&D) of the ERA system.
- The ERA Program implemented a
detailed work breakdown structure outlining the program's tasks and an Earned
Valued Management System tool to track time spent working on each task. These
tools are used to track staff and program performance.
- The ERA Program completed the
hiring of experts needed to manage the program start-up and SA&D
initiatives. Now NARA is working to hire additional staff in preparation for
system development and implementation activities.
The ERA Acquisition Approach
NARA's incremental acquisition approach to ERA consists of a fixed-price base contract
period for the design of the ERA system, followed by five system development increments.
The base contract period began on August 16, 2004, and will run for one year. The
competition between Lockheed Martin and Harris will provide NARA insight on how each
contractor handles the complex challenges of designing and
building ERA. The base year will end with a selection of one development
contractor being awarded the first option to develop ERA. This follows five years
of intensive study and research by the National Archives into the
possibilities, requirements and approaches to the design and implementation.
At the conclusion of the base contract period, Harris and Lockheed Martin will
present a system design and working prototype that demonstrates their designs
in action; NARA will down select to one contractor who has provided the best
value to the government, the best design, and the best team to proceed with
developing the ERA system.
During the five subsequent increments, ERA system development will continue, with each
increment building upon the functionality of the previous one. The ERA system
is scheduled to reach Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in FY 2007, providing
end-to-end functionality for managing, preserving, and providing on-line access
to NARA's electronic records.
NARA will add more capacity, capability, and functionality as well as enhancements to
existing features, all the while reflecting lessons learned in earlier stages of the
development. The ERA system is scheduled to reach Full Operating Capability
(FOC) offering users a variety of system services in FY 2011
Related Research Activities
In response to its fundamental charge as the nation's record keeper, NARA has
established unprecedented relationships in the national defense and security communities
to ensure ERA's electronic holdings remain secure, safe and authentic.
NARA has established a Virtual Archives Laboratory (VAL) to accelerate collaborative
research and shared learning among research partners including the
San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), and the University of Maryland
Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), the National
Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA),
the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), Georgia Tech Research Institute, NARA
staff, and other federal contributors to design and evaluate both an
architecture and supporting software suites enabling a Federated Persistent
Archives (FPA) that can address the requirements for large scale, long term
archiving of electronic records.
NARA's "transcontinental" persistent archives research prototype is
currently exercising over two million computer files of test electronic records
collections in tests and evaluations of persistent archives prototypes at the University
of Maryland, the San Diego Supercomputer Center, and the Stanford Linear Accelerator
Center. It is up and running as confirmation of the continuing value of research
to serve as the catalyst for innovation in the context of continuing technology
change and as a mitigation strategy against technology risks to the ERA
program. As part of NARA's continuing collaboration with the National Science
Foundation (NSF), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has joined NARA as a research
partner this year, expanding the persistent archives infrastructure
research to include the acclaimed expertise and capabilities of the
"DSpace" Program. As confirmation of the continuing synergy in ERA
sponsored research, Georgia Tech Research Institute (NARA's long-time Army
Research Lab collaborator), has also joined in the NSF-supported persistent
ERA will use the VAL as an environment where people can do research on electronic
records issues. The research at NARA focuses on developing the attributes of a persistent system that will continue to operate robustly over a long period of time and is primarily concerned with the issues of scalability, extensibility, and
evolvability. In keeping with these aims, the VAL provides a safe, secure
environment suitable for testing the prototypes of persistent archives applications and
One of the current projects being tested in the VAL is a prototype system that
leverages the SDSC's Storage Resource Broker (SRB) technology, (a middleware application
that uses grid and metadata technologies to transparently manage data), MCAT
metadata catalog, and InQ (InQuisitor) technology to manage NARA-designated test
electronic records collections. The system makes the storage and retrieval of
the data stored at these locations transparent to users. One of the key
features of the SRB is that it is designed to be scalable, modular, and
infrastructure independent. Utilizing these technologies, ERA research has set
up a prototype system that runs at NARA, SDSC, and UMIACS. Over the course of
the first phase of this initiative, several terabytes of data collections are
being ingested, registered, and replicated among the three sites over high speed
NARA has also joined NASA, NIST, the US Army, and the National Nuclear Security
Administration as a government contributor to the federal/private sector academic PDES
Inc. Consortium (an international industry/government consortium accelerating the
development and implementation of ISO 10303, commonly known as STEP [STandard
for the Exchange of Product model data]) for the long-term retention of
electronic records of engineering processes. Similarly, NARA has joined the
Office for the Secretary of Defense, Sandia National Laboratories, the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the U.S. Navy's Naval Undersea Warfare Center to
build upon and contribute to very rapid developments being made in
interoperability among proprietary software by the federal-private sector
supported Object Management Group consortium.
NARA continues to support the InterPARES II project. This multidisciplinary research,
headquartered at the University of British Columbia, Canada, brings together
researchers and graduate students from 14 nations. The project is conducting
case studies and related investigations in the preservation of digital records in
order to create interactive, dynamic, and experiential applications of computer
technology in government, science and the arts.
Stay abreast of ERA progress and get answers to your questions about the program
through the following sources: