NARA's Electronic Records Archive boots up

Monday - 3/28/2011, 10:31am EDT

Paul Wester, Chief Records Officer, NARA

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

It took years, but the National Archives and Records Administration's Electronic Records Archive has launched.

Paul Wester, Chief Records Officer at NARA, told Federal News Radio "it's not exactly pressing a button and turning it on." There are ducks to get in a row.

First, NARA has started to reach out to all of the CIO council agencies to start transferring their permanently valuable records to the Archives, "particularly their electronic records so that we can get them into the ERA system and preserve them and make them available to the American public."

The there's the work being done at the three "pathfinder" agencies: Justice, HHS, and State. Those three, because they contain records the "American public has great interest in seeing," said Wester, have started bringing in their records this month, "and then between now and the end of November, we are reaching out to the rest of the about 27 other agencies, headquarter cabinet level agencies to start bringing in their records. We also have staff here working with all of the independent agencies across the government to start bringing their electronic records in and start doing their management transactions in ERA starting in July of 2011."

ERA, said Wester, will "allow us to take records in all different formats and at a scale that we had not been able to process previously."

That scale, said Wester, is needed even though only about two to three percent of the electronic records have the permanent, enduring value that the National Archives is looking for.

While the "challenges that we've had," said Wester, "in trying to stand up a system of this level of complexity that can deliver on the volume of records that we are trying to deal with across the government," have been enormous, the Archives isn't alone in addressing them. "A lot of these challenges that we're dealing with here across the span of nearly 300 agencies are seen in the private sector in different kinds of industries, but we're having to deal with it across the entire scope of the government which has added a tremendous amount of complexity."

And, while ERA is not as fully developed as planned, according to Wester, "overall, we've got a system that is operational. There were challenges that we've had to overcome as we've gotten to this point, but given the technical challenges that we've had to deal with: the multiplicity of formats, the number of different agencies that have different types of records we've had to deal with, and the crushing volume that we're seeing from agencies that we need to be able to bring in and manage, I think we're in as good a place as we could be given the size of the task, the complexity of the task, and the size of the contract involved in doing this work."

Given the nature, and growth of electronic records planned for the system, including Twitter postings, Wester put a positive spin on the workload ahead, noting "records management is a full employment kind of activity."