National Personnel Records Center Prepares for Expansion of Onsite Workforce
Press Release · Monday, March 8, 2021
Improvement in public health outlook holds promise for increased service to veterans
The National Archives and Records Administration is planning a phased expansion of the onsite workforce at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO. Improved local public health conditions and dropping infection rates are setting the stage for returning more employees to the facility, which will happen over the next 10 days. The NPRC has struggled to keep up with requests for veterans’ records since operations were impacted by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic a year ago, and the current backlog of requests is at more than 480,000.
“Providing our nation’s veterans with access to their records is a top priority for the National Archives,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero. “Though we’ve been doing everything we can to address the issue, the current situation is unacceptable and unsustainable. I am heartened that conditions are shifting and hopeful that we’ll be able to return to our normal high levels of customer service. As a Vietnam veteran, myself, I am fully invested in finding a solution and providing veterans and their families with the services they expect and deserve.”
Decisions regarding each NARA facility are assessed weekly based on public health data and NARA’s phased reopening plan, initially developed using guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Since the outset of the pandemic, National Archives officials took a number of actions to protect the workforce from exposure to COVID-19, including reducing the number of employees permitted in the facilities at one time and implementing strict social distancing procedures for on-site work. Unfortunately, these actions have significantly reduced the speed and volume of requests that staff could safely process at the NPRC.
Despite maintaining strict safety protocols, the NPRC has had to stop work on numerous occasions to deep clean portions of the facility due to 59 confirmed or potential COVID-19 cases in the building.
Since March 2020, the NPRC has responded to more than 288,000 requests. Staff responded to more than 116,000 urgent requests, including more than 45,000 burial-related requests, assistance to more than 7,500 homeless veterans, and more than 18,000 medical emergencies. Additionally, the NPRC partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs to expedite the processing of VA requests for records. Since the start of the pandemic, NPRC staff have serviced more than 172,000 requests from the VA.
These efforts have not been enough to keep pace with the new requests received over the same period, and the backlog of unanswered requests has continued to grow to the current number.
The National Archives has recently received emergency funding from Congress, which it used to purchase and deploy computer equipment that is enabling more NPRC employees to work on records requests remotely. This has allowed the agency to almost double the number of requests processed each week, over the past couple of weeks. Funding will also be used to hire additional employees and contractors to help eliminate the backlog.
“We will do everything possible to return to normal service levels as quickly and efficiently as we can while keeping our staff safe,” said William J. Bosanko, Chief Operating Officer of the National Archives and Records Administration. “We’ve begun making progress, and we’re fully committed to not only eliminating the backlog but changing our processes to better support veterans and their families in the future and to be better prepared for similar, health-related closures.”
National Archives officials have already taken several actions to expedite processing of requests and mitigate the growth of the backlog, without compromising the safety of the workforce. The work week at the NPRC was expanded to include Saturdays and some Sundays, and a second shift was implemented on weekdays, allowing staff to double the on-site workforce without exceeding maximum safe occupancy limits.
The agency also deployed new technology to allow the public to submit requests electronically, with digital signatures, and for staff to remotely and securely respond to requests by transmitting digital images in instances where records are available electronically. When possible, staff have also facilitated self-service inquiries by veterans.
The NPRC employs approximately 600 people in St. Louis. This staff has served with distinction over the past year. The facility holds more than 2 million cubic feet of military personnel and medical records, which only exist in paper form and cannot be accessed remotely. The NPRC responds to requests from veterans and their families who require copies of their military service records, primarily to prove honorable service in order to claim a service-related benefit. In a typical year, the NPRC responds to more than 1.2 million requests for copies of those records, or more than 20,000 requests each week, most of which are completed in under 10 days.
“I’m proud of the efforts of our employees who have worked hard to provide the best service possible during a very difficult time,” said Scott Levins, director of the NPRC. “We’ve all been frustrated at the situation and that we haven’t been able to do more, and do it faster, and I am really glad that conditions have improved so we can bring more staff and contractors to begin righting the ship.”
This page was last reviewed on March 8, 2021.
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