Electronic Records Archives (ERA)

Frequently Asked Questions About ERA

  ERA Glossary


These questions and answer appeared in the bi-monthly ERA Electronic Newsletter,"For the e-Record," ERA Program Director Ken Thibodeau addresses specific questions raised by NARA staff about ERA's status and progress. If you have any questions that you would like answered in For the e-Record, please send them to ERA.Program@nara.gov

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What is ERA?

ERA stands for Electronic Records Archives. ERA is the National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) response to the challenges stemming from the increasing use of computers in government. NARA is building the ERA System to be a comprehensive, systematic, and dynamic means for preserving virtually any kind of electronic record, free from dependence on any specific hardware or software.

When operational, the ERA System will support the NARA's mission by making it easy for the public and government officials to discover, use, and trust the records of our government, and to make it easy for the National Archives to deliver those records in formats people can use.

In addition, ERA will automate the processes NARA relies on for lifecycle management of records in all media, not just electronic records, and it will automatically enforce NARA's policies and business rules.

Who will use ERA?

In Increment 1, ERA will be used by the four Pilot Agencies, in addition to NARA staff in the records and lifecycle management, and electronic and special media records divisions. Public access to ERA will not be available until a later release.

Will ERA digitize NARA's paper holdings?

No.

What are ERA Increments?

The ERA system is being designed and implemented in 5 segments, also called "increments," to ensure that its design is flexible and adaptable to future needs and to incorporate state-of-the-art technologies. In September 2005, NARA awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMC) to begin the development of the ERA system.

Increments 2-5 will add functions that will improve the ERA system's capabilities, such as searching for records within the system, processing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and processing records in the Presidential Libraries. The system is also expected to grow incrementally to support ever increasing volumes of electronic records and more and more users.

Will ERA accept any kind of electronic record?

To maintain consistency with NARA transfer guidance policy, it has been determined that during Increment 1, ERA will perform electronic records processing (verification processing for the records) only for a subset of the seven electronic records formats that NARA currently accepts:

  • Flat File Data Bases;
  • E-mail messages with attachments;
  • Scanned images of textual records;
  • Portable Document Format (PDF) records;
  • Digital photographic records;
  • Digital geospatial data records; and
  • Web content records.

Six of these seven formats (flat file data bases have been accepted by NARA for many years) were determined as part of the e-Government Electronic Records Management Initiative. For more information about the six acceptable records formats NARA accepts, go to: http://www.archives.gov/ records-mgmt/initiatives/erm-guidance.html

How will ERA preserve today's electronic records far into the future?

Preservation in ERA will be twofold. The first part of preservation will be preserving the bitstreams that make up the electronic records that come into ERA. This is done so that if in the future, someone wants to view a record in its original format and is able to emulate the original software with which the record was created, he or she will be able to do so.

The second part of records preservation within ERA requires building software within the system that will be able to make a record viewable on future formats in its original state. This is known as "digital transformation." Transformations of electronic records will not be available in Increment 1.

What is the goal of ERA?

The goal of ERA is to assist NARA staff and Federal agencies in preserving, protecting, and providing access to the records of the Federal Government.

How will ERA protect all of the information in the system?

ERA is being designed to ensure that the records cannot be corrupted or tampered with while they are stored in the system.

ERA will protect information in a number of different ways, which means that security will never depend upon a single mechanism. For example, technical security measures scan all transferred files for viruses, provide protections against data corruption, ensure ERA system availability, and provide trusted network connections to external systems. Physical security controls physical access to the ERA equipment and sensitive data.

Why tell agencies to send records in now in a certain type of format if in 5 years ERA will take anything in any format?

NARA's vision is to develop the ERA system to be able to preserve any kind of electronic record. "Any kind" is meant to cover an even greater variety than NARA currently preserves: not only textual records, maps, photographs, sound recordings, etc, but also records that can only exist in digital form, such as web sites and virtual reality models.

Preserving every kind does not necessarily mean preserving every format that each kind can have. Doing that would be impossible both technologically and financially. Even achieving the vision of preserving every kind is not presently feasible from a technological perspective and it will take a considerable amount of time and much more money than has been or is likely to be available for some time.

Moreover, even when there are technologies for long term preservation, there will still be a need to get electronic records out of the systems agencies use to do their business and into formats that can be transferred to ERA.

Would the ERA system potentially eliminate the use of microfilming?

ERA is designed only to preserve and provide access to records in digital form. NARA increasingly looks at scanning to digital form as an alternative to microfilming, but decisions on what to scan, like decisions on what to microfilm, are not within the scope of ERA.

Is the PDF-A file format being considered as part of this ERA system?

NARA permits agencies to transfer permanent electronic records in PDF format. Electronic records will be preserved in ERA in the formats in which they are received. In addition, NARA will create other versions of preserved electronic records when needed to overcome obsolescence of the original format or to provide access to the records. Decisions on the formats of such additional versions will be made on a case by case basis.

Why are enormous resources going to ERA, while other parts of NARA are feeling painful cuts?

In the 1980's the Congressional Research Service reported that more than 90% of federal records were being created in digital form. The Government's reliance on digital technology has only increased since then. Without ERA NARA will not be able to preserve most of the valuable electronic records being created. Moreover, preservation in electronic form makes it easier for citizens to access the records. Additionally, ERA is designed to support NARA's lifecycle management of all records; therefore, the system will provide benefits even in our processes for paper records.

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ERA Glossary

Acronym Definition
AAD Access to Archival Databases
AERIC Archival Electronic Records Inspection and Control
APS Archival Preservation System
CMM Capability Maturity Model
CONOPS Concept of Operations
COTS Commercial Off-The-Shelf
DARPA Defense Advance Research Projects Agency
DICE Data Intensive Cyber Environments
DOCT Distributed Object Computation Testbed
DOMPF Digital Official Military Personnel Files Repository
e-Gov Electronic Government
ERA Electronic Records Archives
ERM Electronic Records Management
FOC Full Operating Capability
FRCFederal Records Center
IEEE Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
InterPARES International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems
IOC Initial Operational Capability
IT Information Technology
NARA National Archives and Records Administration
NHPRC National Historical Publications and Records Commission
NPACINational Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure
OAIS Open Archival Information Standard
OMB Office of Management and Budget
OPA Online Catalog
PD Program Director
PDF Portable Document Format
PERPOS Presidential Electronic Records Pilot System
POST Program Office Support Team
PM Project Manager
PMBOK Project Management Institutes Project Management Body of Knowledge
PMO Program Management Office
RCP Records Center Program
RD Requirements Document
RFP Request For Proposal
RMI Records Management Initiative
SDLC Systems Development Life Cycle
SEI Software Engineering Institute
Std Standard
UMIACS University of Maryland Institute For Advanced Computer Studies
URL Uniform Resource Locator
VAL Virtual Archives Laboratory
XML Extensible Markup Language
XO Executive Officer
WWW World Wide Web

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Page Last Updated: 07/29/08

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