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Senate votes to divert NARA's e-archives funds to Amtrak.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has voted to defer for one year the $35.9 million requested for the National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) electronic recordkeeping project and divert the funds to Amtrak.

It is a move that many view as a setback for the e-archives project, which would create a digital warehouse for government documents, including e-mail and computer files, that cannot be converted easily to paper format for long-term storage.

The National Journal quoted a Senate source who revealed that the funds were cut at the request of Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that approves funding for the Transportation and Treasury departments. In early September, the committee approved the bill, S.1589, which also would fund NARA's project. According to the source, Murray had planned to propose the funding cut for the archiving project in an amendment, but the proposal was ultimately inserted in the committee report. The Bush administration requested only $900 million to meet Amtrak's $1.8 billion budget, and the deferred e-archives funds will be used to help meet the shortfall, the source said.

The committee report calls for e-archives funds to be suspended for while NARA addresses management problems raised in an August report released by the General Accounting Office (GAO). According to that report, NARA has failed to follow electronic recordkeeping industry standards: "Key policy and planning documents are missing elements that are required by the standards ... NARA cannot adequately track the cost and schedule of the [electronic archiving] program." The report notes that, without a schedule, the risk that funds may not be used efficiently or effectively increases and, as a result, the system may not function properly.

NARA criticized the move in a statement that read, in part: "[The e-archiving project] is a critical need due to the volume and rapid obsolescence of electronic records today, let alone in the future." In the statement, NARA asserts that if the deferment makes it through full Senate, it will work hard to get the funding restored in negotiations with the House for the final version of the legislation.

According to a committee source quoted by The National Journal, taking a year to fix the project will not hurt its long-term prospects because it is not expected to be operational until 2007. The source also said that there will be additional funding opportunities in the future.

In August, the House incorporated the administration's full NARA request into its competing bill, H.R. 2989, and the report for that bill supports the program. Previously, the e-archiving initiative was funded from NARA's general account. This year, however, the House bill would create a separate account for the e-archives.

NARA's e-archiving project has been criticized frequently. As reported by The National Journal, at a July hearing before the House Government Reform Technology Subcommittee, Linda Koontz, GAO's director of information technology issues, said NARA has only recently improved inspection of federal agency documents to ensure valuable electronic records are archived and has not developed a workable plan for the e-archives.
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Title Annotation:Up front: news, trends & analysis
Author:Swartz, Nikki
Publication:Information Management Journal
Date:Nov 1, 2003
Words:508
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