As predicted in yesterday's newsletter, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration is moving into a serious effort to preserve today's electronic information. The Archivist of the United States, John W. Carlin, today announced the two companies that will lead the way in designing a technological solution to the challenge of preserving electronic information across space and time. These design contracts are valued at $20.1 million.
At the end of the one-year design competition, the National Archives will select one of these two contractors to build the Electronic Records Archives, a revolutionary system that will capture electronic information, regardless of its format, save it permanently, and make it accessible on whatever hardware or software is currently in use. Over the life of the contract, it is potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars with countless positive implications for individuals, private businesses, and government organizations alike.
The two companies are:
Lockheed Martin, Transportation and Security Solutions Division
Harris Corporation, Government Communications Systems Division
Lockheed Martin is described as a leader in Defense and Government Markets. Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, the corporation employs about 130,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, and integration of advanced technology systems, products, and services.
Harris Corporation is an international communications equipment company focused on providing product, system, and service solutions for commercial and government customers. The company serves markets for microwave, broadcast, secure tactical radio, and government communications systems. Harris has more than 10,000 employees, including 5,000 engineers and scientists, and is headquartered in Melbourne, Florida.
In making the announcement, Carlin said, "I am proud that the National Archives has both the mission and the capabilities to solve the problems posed by electronic records. At every step of the process of developing the Electronic Records Archives, we have partnered with the best and the brightest to develop solutions, and today that will continue as we reach this milestone. ERA will make electronic information available virtually anytime, anywhere. We are not just talking about the information contained in Government records. We will START with Government records, but there is no end to where ERA can take us."
In their bids for this business, the companies were asked to:
• describe a solution in terms of an overall architecture which addresses all of the National Archives requirements, and a design which shows that the architecture can be implemented, and that it can evolve over time;
• demonstrate that they have the technical know-how to build the system and that they have the management capability to do it on time, according to specifications and within budget;
• show how they would help the Archives achieve its performance objectives; and
• link the awards they could receive to those achievements.
The Lockheed Martin firm-fixed price design contract was bid at $9.5 million while the Harris Corporation firm-fixed price design contract bid was $10.6 million.
The potential impact to records of genealogical value is huge although individual genealogists probably will not see any change for years. While today's newly-generated records typically are available only electronically, the federal "Right to Privacy" laws keep them out of public view for 72 years. However, future genealogists will depend heavily upon these electronic records.
As the National Archives announcement states:
The Electronic Records Archives (ERA) will be a comprehensive, systematic, and dynamic means for preserving virtually any kind of electronic record, free from dependence on any specific hardware or software. When operational, ERA will make it easy for the public and government officials to find records they want, and easy for NARA to deliver those records in formats people need.
Mr. Carlin is certainly to be commended for propelling this huge step forward for NARA. While all Americans can applaud his efforts, future generations of genealogists especially will reap the rewards of this important preservation project. Mr. Carlin has been in the news in the past few days. When submitting his resignation, he did ask to stay on "at least four more months to oversee certain initiatives." Now we know what he had in mind as one of those initiatives: a potential landmark effort that will greatly impact the future of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration as well as thousands of future researchers.