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Blog: Project Management Nightmare -- Records from the Bush Administration

Blog: Project Management Nightmare -- Records from the Bush Administration

When US presidents leave office, they leave behind pounds and pounds of paper and bytes and bytes of electronic records -- all sorts of data reflecting the activities, and inactivity, of their leadership of this great nation of ours.

What happens to all that stuff, which is the property of the American people? Presidential libraries get copies of some material. But most of it goes to the US National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA, a federal agency that keeps government documents.

(I say "most of it" because some material somehow gets lost. The most recent high-profile example being how the Bush Administration can't account for missing-yet-crucial e-mail related to the leaked identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Lost e-mail just happens, doesn't it. Darndest thing.)

Anyway, NARA safeguards and preserves government records in the name of safeguarding and preserving democracy itself, as the agency says on its Web site. And we're all supposed to be able to search and access these records.

What's really curling my liver is the big mess in which NARA finds itself as it tries to put in an electronic records archive system, or ERA, to manage all those important government documents and data. The plan was to have that big ERA in place in time to receive Bush's records when the man hands over the keys to the White House in January 2009.

Classic project management problems now plague ERA. And the problems will, of course, cost millions dollars, according to a May 14 report from the US Government Accountability Office.

NARA has been working since 2001 on ERA. Seven years and it isn't done yet. The first phase isn't even done yet and when it is, it'll be US$8 million to US$12 million over budget, GAO says. Just that phase.

Among the aggravating details, NARA and Lockheed Martin, the contractor NARA hired, decided to build most of the system from scratch. They have their reasons, but you gotta know that doing so stacks the odds against you at the start. Then Lockheed originally provided programmers without the necessary experience, the GAO says, causing project delays. Lockheed had to replace them with more experienced programmers.

The glacial pace of progress -- and you may surmise I use the word "progress" quite generously -- makes me want to pull my hair out:

  • 2001 to 2003: Two years to go from developing records management policies to issuing a request for proposal to design the ERA.

  • December 2003 to August 2004: Another eight months to award contracts to two vendors to design the system.

  • August 2004 to September 2005: Another year to choose one of the two to build it; Lockheed got a contract that runs from 2006 to 2012 valued at, the GAO says, US$317 million.

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