NARA sets ERA release date

The National Archives and Records Administration expects to unveil initial capabilities of its Electronic Records Archive in September 2007, according to Ken Thibodeau, director of the electronic records archive program management office. Thibodeau spoke at the 2006 AIIM Conference and Exposition in Philadelphia last week.

Last September, the agency awarded a $308 million contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. to build an electronic archiving system for government documents. Developing such a system would be a challenge, NARA officials predicted, given the rapidity of technological change. Today's document formats and supporting technologies will be obsolete in a matter of a few years, and no one can predict which formats would be used decades from now.

As a result, NARA and Lockheed Martin designed the system to be able to evolve, meaning it will be able to harness new technologies as they come into widespread use. 'It has to accommodate new formats,' Thibodeau said. The system designers are also automating the workflow surrounding record ingestion as much as possible as well.

Thibodeau offered a few other early glimpses into the system's capabilities during his presentation.

While the material itself will be distributed around the country in different locations, it was designed to be accessed by a single Web portal. The portal will serve two distinct sets of customers. One will be the public, seeking historic government records over the Internet. They will be able to search records, or browse by time frame or category. NARA will provide workbenches for specific types of popular searches, such as genealogy-related queries. Users will be able to access live help and get e-mail notifications when new materials are archived.

The other group of users will be agency records managers, who will be able to set up schedules and transfer records electronically via the system. 'Agencies will be using ERA as a single portal for all our services, including scheduling, disposition, access to records and special services agencies might need,' Thibodeau said. Managers can search other agencies' schedules to find examples for their own use. They can also check the status of records they submitted.

The ERA site will go live in increments, Thibodeau said. The first part of the system, scheduled to debut in September 2007, will offer agencies some basic transfer abilities. Six months later, the system will offer some scheduling capabilities. None of the citizen-centered capabilities will be offered in 2007.

Each year after that, a new set of features will be added, until 2011, when the system will be fully operational, Thibodeau said.

One of the largest challenges the team faces is that of privacy concerns, or making sure the agency doesn't inadvertently disclose information that should not be public, such as medical records, Thibodeau said. Although agencies should, as matter of routine, expunge any sensitive or classified material as before it is handed over to NARA, this is not always the case.

Getting proper safeguards in place to prevent security and privacy breaches from happening holds the greatest potential for delaying the roll-out. 'We won't go live until we meet these specifications,' he said.

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