House lawmakers have written to the National Archives and Records Administration, calling on it to apply for funding from the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) to help clear a backlog of more than 500,000 requests for service records from veterans.
In a letter sent Monday, members of the three House committees said NARA should seek to use the TMF, in addition to existing allotted funds, to speed up IT modernization and digitize records and clear the impasse.
Signatories include Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, D-N.Y., and Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wisc., who is a ranking member on the committee’s National Security Subcommittee.
“NARA has identified the need to digitize records as one of the biggest hurdles to addressing the backlog of veterans’ requests,” the lawmakers wrote in the missive. “Congress has provided substantial financial support for NARA to reach this goal. Although NARA has taken some steps to begin digitization, more significant action is needed to improve the agency’s IT infrastructure.”
Since implementing workplace restrictions at the start of the coronavirus crisis last year, NARA has been unable to process thousands of requests for veterans’ records. The delays have left veterans unable to access certain military records held at the National Personnel Records Center needed to receive service-related benefits, including medical treatment, unemployment assistance, home loans and student loans.
Despite receiving fresh funding, including through the American Rescue Plan Act in March this year, NARA projects that at the current rate, the records backlog will not be resolved until the end of fiscal 2022.
At a briefing on June 9, NARA reported to members of Congress that the backlog stood at nearly 500,000 unprocessed pending requests for records, a number that remained unchanged from May.
Alongside $272 million in funding for NARA included in the American Rescue Plan, Congress in March 2020 provided the agency’s Federal Records Center Program with $8.1 million in CARES Act funding. These funds followed $50 million in emergency appropriations included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act last year.
The latest missive follows a bipartisan letter sent by lawmakers in May, which urged the Department of Defense to help address the backlog of veterans’ records and called on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to address the data pile-up.