WASHINGTON—Today, Oversight and Reform Committee Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.) and Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.); Government Operations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jody Hice (R-Ga.) and Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.); and National Security Subcommittee Ranking Member Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) and Chairman Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero urging the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to apply for funding through the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) to help clear the backlog of records requests for veterans at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC).
NPRC has a backlog of approximately 500,000 unprocessed requests for records, which veterans rely on to access vital benefits.
“NARA has identified the need to digitize records as one of the biggest hurdles to addressing the backlog of veterans’ requests. Congress has provided substantial financial support for NARA to reach this goal,” wrote the Members. “Although NARA has taken some steps to begin digitization, more significant action is needed to improve the agency’s IT infrastructure.”
The Modernizing Government Technology Act of 2017 established and authorized funding of the TMF to enable federal agencies to improve or replace existing information technology (IT) systems. The TMF model allows agencies to make vital technology upgrades outside of the normal annualized appropriations process, which can be problematic for agencies in need of longer-term financing for complex IT systems.
The Members noted that Congress designed the TMF to address issues such as those facing NARA, including the need to make electronic copies of veterans’ records that currently exist only in paper form.
“We strongly believe that the digitization of NPRC’s records holdings fits both the objective and spirit of the TMF, and we urge NARA to apply for additional assistance through this important program,” the Members added. “It is critical that NARA use any and all available tools to ensure we can uphold our commitments to our nation’s veterans.”
On May 20, 2021, bipartisan leaders on the Oversight Committee and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee sent a joint letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III asking him to prioritize a NARA request for assistance with addressing the backlog of veterans’ records requests at the NPRC.
In June 2021, the Oversight Committee and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a bipartisan briefing on the backlog of veterans’ records requests and possible legislative solutions to address challenges faced by NPRC. During this briefing, NARA informed Members that digitizing NPRC’s holdings, improving its telework capacity, and upgrading its IT infrastructure were critical to clearing the backlog of veterans’ records requests.
On July 19, 2021, Archivist Ferriero wrote a letter updating Congress on pandemic recovery operations at the NPRC. Archivist Ferriero detailed significant steps NARA has taken to expedite the processing of records requests at the NPRC, including adding more than 100 staff,and doubling the number of contractors. Despite these additional in-person efficiencies, NARA explained that the backlog of records requests will not be fully eliminated until the end of 2022.
Click here to read today’s letter to NARA.