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Most records in NARA's ERA won't be content searchable, says IG

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Federal records placed into the National Archives and Records Administration's Electronic Records Archive typically won't be content searchable, the agency's inspector general warns.

In two management letters recently posted online--one from January 5 (.pdf), the other from May 4 (.pdf)--NARA IG Paul Brachfeld says most records uploaded to ERA will be searchable only by their metadata tags. Full text search will be reserved for a select bunch of records identified by NARA as high request records.

In Brachfeld's May 4 letter, the inspector general says NARA plans to upload those high request records from ERA to an unbuilt system that will interface with the publicly-available Online Public Access system. However, NARA has no plans to develop the intermediary system by the time that the ERA development period comes to an end--which occurred in September--Brachfeld added.

Until the intermediary system is ready, content search of new high request records would be made possible only by NARA personnel manually reviewing and copying records from ERA into an available legacy system that interfaces with Online Public Access, Brachfeld says.

"Such a manually intensive process is likely to be overwhelmed by the vast troves of electronic records warranting public access which are slated to flow into the Base ERA from federal agencies," he wrote.

For example, ERA--as of spring--held approximately 16,777,216 megabytes of records but only 125 MB of those records are content searchable, and all regarded "County Business Patterns" covering 1970 to 1973, Brachfeld said.

In his January 5 letter, Brachfeld also said the percentage of records designated high request will likely decrease "as billions of records begin to flow into NARA in the coming years."

NARA's contract with ERA developer Lockheed Martin specified that ERA records should be searchable according to keyword, exact phrase, proximity and other types of searches, Brachfeld also said.

ERA grew problematic in the years following the 2005 start of work with Lockheed Martin, resulting in a "TechStat" Office of Management and Budget review in mid-2010, the result of which was to defer planned functionality until an indefinite date. ERA cost NARA approximately $430 million; the agency awarded IBM in September an ERA operations and maintenance contract potentially worth $243 million over a decade.

For more:
- download Brachfeld's Jan. 5 letter (.pdf)  and his May 4 letter (.pdf)

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