Watchdog: Electronic records database is at risk of serious delays, cost overruns

A National Archives and Records Administration project to establish a searchable, electronic database of government documents is running far behind schedule and is likely to incur several hundred million dollars in cost overruns by the time it's finished, according to a new analysis by the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO report, filed at the request of Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., and Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., found that NARA's Electronic Records Archive program likely will be only 65 percent complete by the projected end-date of this September. Furthermore, its price tag could end up $193 million to $433 million higher than expected, analysts concluded. The archive is one aspect of the federal government's renewed commitment to upgrading its technological infrastructure.

GAO attributed these shortfalls to NARA's limited implementation of earned value management, a technique for measuring performance against cost and expectations. The report found that of 11 best practices for an effective earned value management system, NARA "fully met" two, "partially met" seven and failed to meet two others. Continued shifting of baseline expectations during the project -- which began in 2001 -- has made it impossible for NARA to effectively examine progress using earned value management, analysts stated.

"Without effectively implementing EVM," GAO wrote in the report, "NARA has not been positioned to identify potential cost and schedule problems early and thus has not been able to take timely actions to correct problems and avoid program schedule delays and cost increases."

GAO recommended NARA "establish a comprehensive plan for all remaining work; improve the accuracy of earned value performance reports; and engage executive leadership in correcting negative trends."

NARA generally concurred with those suggestions, though it disputed GAO's assessment of the project's status and costs. Based on NARA's original plan and goals, GAO predicted the electronic database will be fully developed by March 2017 -- 67 months after the National Archive's projection -- and will cost a total of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion. The current NARA estimate puts the life-cycle cost of ERA at $995 million.

GAO warned its estimates might even be conservative, as they did not take the difficulty of the remaining work into account. "This is critical," the report stated, "because the work that remains includes system integration and testing activities that are complex and often the most challenging to complete based on our review of similar IT programs. … Final costs at completion could be even higher."

But NARA countered that July 2010 changes to the original development plan will curb those costs significantly. U.S. Archivist David Ferriero released a statement on Friday saying not only will NARA finish developing the electronic records system in September, but it also will come in under cost. "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," he said.

According to the GAO report, NARA's figures do not include "nondevelopmental costs" such as research, project management and concept exploration. "We disagree that this reflects the true cost of developing the system," GAO wrote. The watchdog did, however, concede that its projections were based on NARA's original approach to the project and that changes made following a July 2010 Office of Management and Budget request could have an impact.

Carper and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, released a joint statement on Friday, highlighting GAO's findings and calling for greater oversight of federal information technology projects. "We are routinely seeing IT projects fail because of poor planning, ill-defined and shifting requirements, undisclosed difficulties, and lack of consistent monitoring," Collins said. "Senator Carper and I will be reintroducing legislation this Congress that is intended to prevent these types of IT project failures by increasing oversight with the power to suspend commitment of funds to a project until necessary changes are made."

Collins and Carper will reintroduce the Information Technology Investment Oversight Enhancement and Waste Prevention Act "in the coming months," Carper said. According to Collins, "This legislation will aim to reduce the risk of projects exceeding deadlines and cost parameters, while ensuring the delivery of their intended capabilities."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.