system is built and augmented by contractors, an in-house contract monitoring staff (e.g., the contracting officer’s technical representative) is required that is technically at least as good as the contractor’s people. This staff is essential to developing a basic system design and implementation strategy, preparing an RFP, evaluating proposals, monitoring contract progress, and managing system deployment.

Highly skilled staff will be critical to managing the evolution of the ERA. Chapter 7 recommends an iterative development approach for the ERA designed to reduce technical risk by exposing unforeseen problems and overlooked requirements earlier in the software development process and by providing flexibility in reacting to them. However, because this added flexibility requires an active procurement process and an active management style, it also demands particular management skills. For example, because system components can be contracted at a smaller granularity, contracts must be written to provide flexibility, because requirements and designs for each system component are subject to revision. Not only are there more (but smaller) projects to specify and manage, but the management must also have considerable technical sophistication to recognize technical limitations, to determine new requirements, to identify what should be evolved or replaced and when, etc. The increased flexibility of iterative design helps avoid or correct mistakes but requires deep technical understanding of the system as it evolves. Also, short design cycles require frequent testing, frequent deployment of new systems, frequent comparison of alternatives, frequent tuning of system requirements and goals, and frequent interaction with users.

Since ERA systems and their basic architecture will change over time—owing to both iterative development and improved understanding of the requirements as experience is gained—it will be essential for ERA staff to be expert on their technical properties as they evolve. For this reason, NARA should plan to hire permanent staff having this expertise, although short-term contractors or consultants may also help build a critical mass of expertise to launch the ERA program.

The complexity and novelty of the ERA require that the key IT staff have a breadth of expertise in areas such as the following:

  • Developing modern IT systems using networked heterogeneous elements;

  • Web-based access techniques, including scaling to meet variable and increasing loads;

  • Operating large-scale systems, and a knowledge of elements of their design that allow robust, continuous operation;

  • Working with digital media and file formats, including content searching; and

  • Security.

Staff with this expertise might be recruited from developers of digital libraries or other online information-retrieval services. To address the kinds of issues laid out in this report, this staff would ideally have an understanding of digital archival issues.

The committee recognizes the challenges facing NARA or any other federal agency in recruiting and retaining IT talent.1 However, the need for key staff is urgent if NARA is to

1  

For a discussion of human resource issues related to IT expertise in the context of the Library of Congress, see Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council, 2001, LC21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. Available online at <http://books.nap.edu/catalog/9940.html>.



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