Veteran records bill advances in Senate, but panel deadlocks on NARA nominee

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced legislation to help address a backlog of veteran records requests at the National Archives and Records Administration, but the panel deadlocked in a party-line vote over the nominee to lead NARA.

During a Sept. 28 business meeting, the Senate committee approved the Access for Veterans to Records Act of 2022. The legislation already passed the House in July.

The legislation would require NARA to develop a...

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The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced legislation to help address a backlog of veteran records requests at the National Archives and Records Administration, but the panel deadlocked in a party-line vote over the nominee to lead NARA.

During a Sept. 28 business meeting, the Senate committee approved the Access for Veterans to Records Act of 2022. The legislation already passed the House in July.

The legislation would require NARA to develop a plan, with target time frames, for reducing the pandemic-induced backlog at the National Personnel Records Center. The backlog reached a height of 600,000 requests. It has since dipped to approximately 440,000 cases.

“It can take months and months or even years for veterans to access their military service records, and while they await those records, they can’t access the benefits they’ve earned through their service in defense of our nation,” Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), one of the sponsors of the bill, said during the committee meeting.

The legislation would also require the agency to come up with a plan for improving its IT infrastructure to avoid future backlogs. In May, the Technology Modernization Fund awarded NARA $9.1 million to upgrade critical systems and help eliminate the backlog.

In approving the bill, the committee also approved an amendment from Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) to increase the authorized funding for NARA to address the backlog from $20 million to $60 million, which is in line with the House legislation.

“While $20 million in funding would be certainly a meaningful step forward to clearing the backlog, we must be sure that NARA can make the necessary advancements in cybersecurity and digitization of records that will ensure that this is a long term solution,” Peters said.

Colleen Shogan, the Biden administration’s nominee to lead NARA as National Archivist of the United States, said the veteran records backlog would be the “most important discrete problem facing me” during her confirmation hearing last week.

But during this week’s business meeting, Republicans unanimously opposed Shogan’s nomination, resulting in a 7-7 vote.

During the confirmation hearing, GOP members of the committee questioned Shogan over a past article and tweets she authored. They also criticized the role NARA played in the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.

“I’m concerned about [Shogan’s] partisan views expressed in an article and then a series of public social media postings,” Ranking Member Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said during this week’s business meeting.

While the Homeland Security panel failed to favorably report Shogan, she can still be confirmed if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) discharges her nomination from the committee.

“While I’m disappointed this nomination will not advance today, I’ll work with majority leader to have Dr. Shogan’s nomination discharged from the committee for consideration to the full Senate,” Peters said.

Shogan is currently the senior vice president and director of the David M. Rubenstein Center at the White House Historical Association. She previously worked in the Library of Congress and as a Senate staffer. If the Senate confirms her, Shogan would be the 11th national archivist, as well as the first woman to hold the position.

 

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