A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House Oversight and Reform Committee wants the National Archives and Records Administration to apply for funding from the Technology Modernization Fund to modernize its IT systems and clear its backlog of 500,000 records requests from veterans.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House Oversight and Reform Committee wants the National Archives and Records Administration to apply for funding from the Technology Modernization Fund to modernize its IT systems and clear its backlog of records requests.
The National Personnel Records Center in particular holds veteran records that are a key part of the disability compensation and pension claims process for veterans. The majority of military records are paper-based. The COVID-19 pandemic and its limiting effect on in-person work has contributed to backlogs at NRPC, which in turn has also furthered a backlog of pending claims at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).
In a July 26 letter to NARA chief David Ferriero, six lawmakers urged him to apply for TMF funding. The letter was signed by Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the committee, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the ranking member, along with the chairs and ranking members of two key subcommittees.
"In particular, NARA could more quickly process the NPRC backlog with modernized IT systems. NARA has identified the need to digitize records as one of the biggest hurdles to addressing the backlog of veterans' requests," they wrote. "We strongly believe that the digitization of NPRC's records holdings fits both the objective and the spirit of the TMF, and we urge NARA to apply for additional assistance through this important program."
TMF, recently capitalized with $1 billion from pandemic recovery legislation, provides agencies with no-year funding for critical IT modernization projects. The funding comes with payback requirements but those can be minimized for projects that address "critical security or capability gaps," according to the TMF website.
NARA is already planning to digitize these records to support remote access. In a July 19 letter to lawmakers, Ferriero stated that the agency was adding 100 new staffers and was planning to launch a mass digitization effort in August. Ferriero said that he hoped to eliminate the backlog of 500,000 records requests by the end of next year.
The agency has also asked the Department of Defense for personnel support. NARA has yet to receive a formal response from DOD, Ferriero said in his letter. Lawmakers have also backed this request and urged DOD to respond. Additionally, NARA is working to arrange access to scanned forms contained in the Veterans Benefits Management System at VBA.