February 4, 2011
Statement by the Archivist of the United States Regarding ERA
Fifteen months ago, I began my service at the National Archives with the understanding that the single greatest challenge facing this institution, and archives of all sizes across the country and the world, is the preservation of electronic records. These are the records – emails, databases, photos, etc. – that are “born digital” and are at much greater risk of being lost to history than the oldest parchment and paper documents that can be preserved in a controlled environment. Up until now, there has been no such controlled environment for archiving electronic records. These records are threatened by software obsolescence and the normal degradation of the media – tapes, discs, and hard-drives – used to store them.
In 2005, the National Archives set out to develop and build the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) system to ensure that today’s digital records are accessible to future generations. Today, it is a functional system for federal agencies to input permanent records, which our archivists can search and review. ERA holds close to 93 Terabytes, equivalent to over 23 billion pages of text, including the electronic records of the George W. Bush Administration (available for public access requests beginning in January 2014, as prescribed by the Presidential Records Act). In addition, the ERA Online Public Access prototype [http://www.archives.gov/research/search/] provides for full-text searching of electronic records open to the public.
This summer, the ERA system will become the repository for an estimated 488 terabytes of citizen responses that are the 2010 Census and must, under law, remain closed to the public for 72 years. Because of ERA, it is now possible to ensure that those records can be used by genealogists and historians in the year 2082.
Building such a complex system has not been without challenges. When I became Archivist, I set out to address the problems that the Government Accountability Office and the Archives’ Office of Inspector General had identified, particularly those related to management and oversight. Improvements have been made and later this year, the National Archives intends to complete development of the ERA system, earlier and at less cost than originally planned.
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.
I am committed to working closely with Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, the Government Accountability Office, and the National Archives Inspector General to ensure that the National Archives has the capability to preserve electronic records and that the American people have a full accounting of this project.
David S. Ferriero