Veteran saves bill’s progress in Senate, but panel hangs on NARA nominee

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has proposed legislation to help resolve a backlog of veterans’ records requests to the National Archives and Records Administration, but the panel became deadlocked during a a party vote on the candidate for the head of NARA.

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

The legislation would require NARA to develop a…

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The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has proposed legislation to help resolve a backlog of veterans’ records requests to the National Archives and Records Administration, but the panel became deadlocked during a a party vote on the candidate for the head of NARA.

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

The legislation would require NARA to develop a plan, with target timelines, to reduce the pandemic-induced backlog at the National Personnel Records Center. The backlog peaked at 600,000 applications. It has since fallen to around 440,000 cases.

“It can take months and months, even years, for veterans to access their military service records, and while they wait for those records, they cannot access the benefits they have earned through their service to the defense of our nation,” said Senator Jon. Ossoff (D-Ga.), one of the bill’s sponsors, said at the committee meeting.

The legislation would also require the agency to come up with a plan to improve 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 by Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) to increase authorized funding for NARA to address the backlog from $20 million to $60 million. , which is in accordance with the legislation of the House.

“While $20 million in funding would certainly be a significant step forward in clearing the backlog, we need to be confident that NARA can make the necessary advances in cybersecurity and digitization of records that will ensure it is 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 backlog of veterans’ records would be the “most important low-key issue I face” during his confirmation hearing last week.

But at 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 asked Shogan about a past article and the tweets she wrote. They also criticized NARA’s role in the FBI’s search for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.

“I’m worried about [Shogan’s] partisan opinions expressed in an article and then in a series of public social media posts,” ranking member Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said during the business meeting this week.

Although the Homeland Security panel did not report favorably on Shogan, she can still be confirmed if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) rejects her nomination by the committee.

“While I am disappointed that this nomination is not moving forward today, I will work with the Majority Leader to have Dr. Shogan’s nomination returned from committee for consideration by the full Senate,” Peters said.

Shogan is currently senior vice president and director of the White House Historical Association’s David M. Rubenstein Center. She previously worked at the Library of Congress and as a Senate staffer. If confirmed by the Senate, Shogan would be the 11th National Archivist, as well as the first woman to hold the position.