February 4, 2011
GAO Critical on NARA Digitization Efforts
Whenever the GAO focuses on the National Archives and its efforts to digitize government records, it's always bad news. Today's news doesn't change that track record. The Washington Post is reporting that the GAO will release another report some time today predicting that the cost of the still-in-development system has gone from the original $317 million to $1.4 billion and could go much higher. The draft report obtained by the Post criticizes the Archive for lack of project oversight which caused failure at identifying problems with the system early on.
The article notes that even when the system goes live it will be a lot less than advertised. Users will be able to search a database that brings up listings for documents but will not be able to retrieve the actual documents themselves. The Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero said the project costs are not that large when the cost of project management, planning, and research are not included. That narrow view of how the agency accounts for the project money may prove a bit unpopular with the current Congress looking to cut the federal budget as much as possible. It seems odd that an agency entrusted with managing the essential documents of the nation is having so much trouble getting a handle on digitally produced documents. Sure, the government produces hundreds of millions of documents that need to be preserved, but if the Archive can't handle it, who can?
My obvious choice is for the Archive to start working with other government preservationists such as those in the Library of Congress. It should consider public-private partnerships with companies who are well capitalized and specialized in indexing. I'm thinking Google, but other techonology companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, Xerox have expertise in document preservation. Google gets a lot of criticism for the quality of their scans, but I would think that they could cost out better quality for a custom project. It seems that the system currently being developed will pack a lot less bang for an exceeding large amount of bucks. It's really too bad as it calls into question the expertise at the National Archives.
Update: The report wasn't up when I wrote the post. It is now, and accessible here. [MG]