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SEC Computer Upgrade May Not Be

March 14, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Securities and Exchange Commission is rushing to computerize its recordkeeping, and could end up with a system not much better than its present one, Congress was told Thursday.

Witnesses from the General Accounting Office and the information retrieval industry testified about a project known as ″EDGAR,″ the Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval system the SEC hopes to use to electronically receive and file company information.

″The EDGAR concept offers the potential for reducing the cost of filing corporate disclosure documents, enhancing the effectiveness of SEC in examining these filings, and making these findings more readily available to the public,″ senior GAO supervisor James R. Watts told the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

″But based upon our limited inquiry, it appears that SEC’s push to meet milestones is forcing decisions which may be compromising the management of the project and the opportunities to more fully realize the potential productivitiy gains afforded by EDGAR,″ Watts said.

Watts and other GAO investigators testified that because the SEC set target dates for implementation of the computer system that were too optimistic, some of its features have been delayed and may have to be dropped.

One of the most important features in jeopardy is a ″tagging program″ that would allow a user to automatically call up all filings under a specific category. Without such a program, a user would be forced to search through the entire data system to be sure of seeing all the files he or she might want.

″What we have here is a glorified microfiche card if the system doesn’t having tagging or retrieval,″ said Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a critic of the sytem.

Said Rep. Gerry Sikorski, D-Minn.: ″We should really call this system Mr.ED, not EDGAR, because the SEC has a better chance of finding a talking horse than making an efficient data retrieval system out of this.″

The SEC awarded a $9.2 million contract to create EDGAR to the Arthur Andersen Co. on April 27, 1984.

The contractor met its Sept. 30, 1984, deadlines to install an IBM computer, add software, and begin receiving electronic filings, but it has pushed back its April 30, 1985, deadline for additional software by two months.

The contract’s cost has also gone beyond $10 million, the GAO said.

″You’re right, this system in place isn’t what it should be,″ Peter A. Marx, of the Information Industry Association, told Sikorski.

″It’s no better or faster than microfiche or much better than the system they have now,″ he added.