A bipartisan group of House Oversight and Reform Committee leadership is urging the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to seek money from the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) to help deal with a backlog of about 500,000 records requests from veterans who need the information from NARA’s National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) to receive benefits.

NARA’s biggest problem, the committee leaders said, is it needs to step up the pace of digitizing records. The solution they offered is for the agency to seek money to help do that from the TMF, which is flush with a $1 billion cash infusion from earlier this year and is soliciting bids from Federal agencies for funding awards to start putting that money to work.

The deployment of TMF funding is sure to be a prominent issue this week as the committee releases the 12th edition of its FITARA Scorecard on July 28, and holds a hearing on the same day with witnesses including Federal CIO Clare Martorana and agency CIOs.

“NARA has identified the need to digitize records as one of the biggest hurdles to addressing the backlog of veterans’ requests,” said the July 26 letter to NARA chief David Ferriero from committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., Ranking Member James Comer, R-Tenn., Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and subcommittee Ranking Member Jody Hice, R-Ga.

“Congress has provided substantial financial support for NARA to reach this goal,” the lawmakers said, adding, “Although NARA has taken some steps to begin digitization, more significant action is needed to improve the agency’s IT infrastructure.”

“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 lawmakers said. “It is critical that NARA use any and all available tools to ensure we can uphold our commitments to our nation’s veterans.”

At a committee hearing in June, NARA officials told lawmakers that they were taking steps to reduce the NPRC requests backlog by digitizing records and upgrading IT infrastructure. Ferriero said in a letter to Congress earlier this month he estimated the backlog wouldn’t be completely cleared away until the end of 2022.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.