Collaboration with National Science Foundation to Create an Electronic Records Archives
Press Release · Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Washington, DC

In testimony to a Congressional committee today, Archivist of the United States John Carlin announced plans for the creation of an Electronic Records Archives that will enable the National Archives and Records Administration to preserve and provide access to records of the Federal Government in the digital age.

"This is news of potential importance to the entire Federal Government and to everyone else in our country who keeps records and depends on them," Carlin said in testimony on Fiscal Year 2001 appropriations before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government.

"On previous occasions," he continued, "I've identified the problems of preserving and providing access to vast quantities of system-dependent electronic records, in multiplying formats, as a great challenge for NARA in the 21st Century. Today I can tell you that we're on the verge of a major technological breakthrough for the long-term preservation of computer generated records of the Federal Government. Research-and-development work done for us by the San Diego Supercomputer Center indicates that a practical Electronic Records Archives may be in sight.

"In simplest terms," Carlin explained, "this Electronic Records Archives will be able to preserve any kind of electronic record, free it from the format in which it was created, retain it indefinitely, and enable requesters to read it on computer systems now in use and coming in the future. And because the system promises to be scalable, it could be useful also for smaller archives than ours, including those of state and local governments and private institutions.

"The Electronic Records Archives that we now believe possible will not come overnight or inexpensively," Carlin added. "But it is of utmost importance in the era of electronic information. And I have just approved an interagency agreement with the National Science Foundation for work on such an Electronic Records Archives to be carried forward within the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure, which was created by NSF to take advantage of newly emerging opportunities in high performance computing and communications."

Separately, Archivist Carlin issued the following details about the new partnership with the National Science Foundation:

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has joined the National Science Foundation (NSF) in support of the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (NPACI). NPACI was created under NSF's Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) program. This program focuses on taking advantage of newly emerging opportunities in high performance computing and communications. The program provides flexibility, both to adapt to rapidly evolving circumstances and to meet the need for high-end computation, in order to enable continued world leadership in computational science and engineering.

Faced with the unprecedented challenges of guiding Federal agencies on the management of electronic records of all sorts, and of preserving records of value for documenting citizens' rights, Federal officials'actions, and the national experience in the face of continuing technological change, NARA realized that the state of the art of information technology does not provide adequate responses to these challenges. However, the potential of emerging high performance computing and communications for producing solutions was recognized by NARA in a recent collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The research in that collaboration was performed by the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), the leading-edge site in NPACI, and led to the Distributed Object Computation Testbed (DOCT).

In the DOCT research, the SDSC demonstrated an information management architecture and related methods capable both of preserving the very diverse collections of electronic records that NARA needs to keep, and of enabling access to those collections using state of the art technology, even as that technology continues to evolve in future decades. SDSC also proved the effectiveness of this architecture in processing a variety of collections of electronic records that NARA provided for test purposes. These collections included records of the Congress, the Department of Defense, and the Census Bureau, among others, in a variety of formats.

The approach recommended by SDSC builds on the same data intensive computing technology that NPACI is developing under the NSF Advanced Computational Infrastructure program. NARA's requirement for preserving and providing access to records undergirding citizens' rights, Government accountability, and historical accuracy adds an important component to the PACI research agenda; namely, the ability to carry the information created using computer and communications technologies forward into the future and to protect its integrity and authenticity. Given the rapid pace of technological change, the need to carry digital information forward in time in a reliable manner is increasingly important to government and to businesses in their current operations, as well as for historical purposes. The life-span of activities in many government programs extends over multiple generations of information technology. Such activities could be severely crippled if they could not access important records of the process because those records were in formats that had become obsolete.

By joining NSF in support of NPACI, NARA will be able to elevate and accelerate the pace of research needed to translate these promising beginnings into operational capabilities. This collaboration will also provide NARA with access to the world-class expertise and the extensive resources of the 46 partner institutions in NPACI. NARA sees this initiative as nothing less than building the archives of the future, which it calls-appropriately-the Electronic Records Archives.

Additional information on the Electronic Records Archives is in Archivist Carlin's full testimony, which is either attached or available on request. Contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 301-837-1700.


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