Archival Programs Division, The National Archives at St. Louis
- Military Personnel Records
- Civilian Personnel Records
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In an effort to expand access to and ensure the preservation of the records, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) together with the Department of Defense (DOD) developed a schedule, signed July 8, 2004, making the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) permanent records of the United States. This schedule mandates the legal transfer of these files from DOD ownership to NARA ownership 62 years after the service member's separation from the military.
As part of the initial transfer, the records of 1.2 million veterans who served with the United States Navy and Marine Corps were opened to the public in July 2005. In addition, 200 OMPFs of "Persons of Exceptional Prominence" (PEP files) - such as Presidents, members of Congress and the Supreme Court; famous military leaders; decorated heroes; celebrities; and other cultural figures who served in the military - were also made available to the public for the first time (see below for additional information).
In November 2007, NARA opened to the public 6.3 million OMPFs of former military personnel who served in the United States Army (including Army Air Corps and Army Air Forces), Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. In September 2009, marking the 62nd anniversary of the creation of the United States Air Force, NARA accepted the first block of Air Force records into its custody.
Archival vs Federal (non-archival), Military Records
The opening of these records is part of the ongoing transfer of all OMPFs from the ownership of the military services to the legal custody of NARA, 62 years after the service member's separation from the military. Separation from service is defined as discharge, retirement or death in service based on a rolling date. For example, if today's date is January 1, 2013, then the discharge, retirement or date of death must be January 1, 1951 or before for the record to be considered archival. Archival records are no longer the property of the agencies that created them, in this case the Military Service Departments, but are records of the National Archives, open to the general public. See Archival Records to access these records.
Records of individuals who left service less than 62 years ago are non-archival and are maintained under the Federal Records Center program. Federal (non-archival) OMPFs are subject to access restrictions, and only limited information or copies of documents from these records may be released to the general public within the provisions of the law. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act provide balance between the right of the public to obtain information from military service records and the right of the former military service member to protect his/her privacy. See Federal Records Center Program to access these records.
Based on a rolling date of 62 years, all military personnel records will eventually become archival records, open to the general public.
Records of Persons of Exceptional Prominence (PEP)
The 2004 NARA and DOD schedule also allows for the transfer of OMPF's of "Persons of Exceptional Prominence" (PEP), as soon as ten years after the individual's date of death. This "early" opening of the records to the public is based upon the desire of the National Archives and the DOD to make the records of historically significant individuals available for research. PEP records document the military service of Presidents, members of Congress and the Supreme Court; famous military leaders; decorated heroes; celebrities; and other cultural figures.
As part of the initial transfer of records, a selection of approximately 200 records of Persons of Exceptional Prominence who had been deceased ten years or more were opened to the public. Additional records of eligible individuals have been added (and will continue to be added) as transfer agreements are reached with the respective military service departments. To date, approximately 500 individual PEP records are open to the public. See PEP Records for access.
Beginning in 2009, NARA signed agreements with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that transferred ownership of the Official Personnel Folders (OPF) of certain former Federal civil employees from OPM over to NARA. As a result, the records of many former Federal civil servants whose employment ended prior to 1952 are now open to the public. See Archival OPFs for access.
However, due to the nature of the agreement, not all OPFs of former civil servants whose employment ended prior to 1952 are included among those recently accessioned records. The OPFs of individuals employed prior to 1952 by some agencies whose personnel management systems do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) are not yet open to the public. Access to such records is restricted under the Privacy Act of 1974 (P. L. 93-579) and only limited types of information from these records are releasable to non-authorized users. Once a specific record has been identified and located, the NPRC will make a determination on the record's status and releasability.