Senate panel seeks to move funds for e-archives to Amtrak

Responding to a critical government report and a shortfall in Amtrak funding, the Senate Appropriations Committee has voted to defer for one year the $35.9 million requested for an electronic record-keeping project of the National Archives and Records Administration and instead divert the funds to Amtrak.

According to a Senate source, the funds were cut at the request of Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that approves funding for the Transportation and Treasury departments. Last week, the committee approved the bill, which also would fund NARA.

Murray had planned to propose the funding cut for the archiving project in an amendment. But she and two Republicans reached an accommodation with subcommittee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and the language was inserted in the committee report, the source said.

The Bush administration requested only $900 million to meet Amtrak's $1.8 billion budget, the source said, and the deferred archiving funds would be used to help meet the shortfall.

The committee report calls for e-archives funds to be deferred for one year while NARA addresses management problems raised in report (GAO-03-880) issued by the General Accounting Office in August. The report said the agency has failed to follow industry standards for electronic record-keeping.

"Key policy and planning documents are missing elements that are required by the standards," the report charges. "NARA cannot adequately track the cost and schedule of the [electronic archiving] program," it concluded, adding that without a schedule, "the risk is increased that funds may not be used efficiently or effectively" and that the system may not function properly as a result.

NARA criticized the move in a statement on Monday. "[The e-archiving project] is a critical need due to the volume and rapid obsolescence of electronic records today, let alone in the future," it stated. "If the numbers stand full Senate action, we will work hard to see that funding is restored" in negotiations with the House for the final version of the legislation.

But the committee source said that the e-archives are not supposed to be operational until 2007 and that taking a year to fix the program will not harm its long-term prospects. "There will be funding opportunities in the future," the source said.

Last month, the House incorporated the administration's full NARA request into its competing bill, and the report for that bill backs the program. Previously, the e-archiving initiative was funded from NARA's general account. This year, the House bill would create a separate account for the e-archives.

The project calls for a digital warehouse for government documents, including e-mail and computer files that cannot be converted easily to paper format for long-term storage. But GAO frequently has criticized the program.

At a July hearing before the House Government Reform Technology Subcommittee, Linda Koontz, GAO's director of information technology issues, said NARA only recently has improved inspection of federal agency records, ensuring that valuable electronic documents are archived, and still has not developed a workable plan for the e-archives.

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