Colleen Shogan once again testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Feb. 28 after her nomination to be the first female archivist for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) was blocked last congress.
President Biden refreshed Shogan’s nomination to lead the agency at the beginning of the 118th Congress after the committee deadlocked 7-7 on her nomination in September.
NARA has been without a permanent archivist since May 2022, when the tenth archivist of the U.S. – David Ferriero – retired and Debra Steidel Wall stepped up on an acting basis.
Ferriero’s retirement came at a time when the agency was dealing with an outstanding backlog of veterans’ records. The backlog peaked at 603,000 requests in March 2022, but Shogan said during her Feb. 28 hearing that the backlog now stands at 330,000 records.
“There is good news,” Shogan encouraged the committee members during their first hearing of the new Congress. “The backlog is down to about 330,000 requests. The height of the backlog was over 600,000 requests, so that is good progress.”
She continued, “The projected timeline for the completion of the backlog, or the elimination of it, is in December of 2023.”
Veterans are waiting months to get copies of military service records that prove when they served so they can access their eligibility for pensions, mortgages, and other compensation.
The backlog for veterans’ documents started during the COVID-19 pandemic when NARA switched to remote work, and employees could not access veterans’ paper-based records.
Congress passed the Access for Veterans to Records Act in December, giving NARA $60 million to fix the backlog and requiring the agency’s archivist to ensure there is sufficient staffing to respond to 90 percent of records requests within 20 days or less.
But without someone permanently leading the agency, it’s unclear if NARA will successfully reach its December 2023 goal.
Shogan’s most recent hearing was not met with much urgency to confirm her as the eleventh archivist of the U.S. The committee members continued to shower Shogan with concern about her “partisan views,” and the meeting was shortly adjourned without clarity on when a vote will take place.
However, with a change in the panel’s leadership for the 118th Congress, it’s possible Shogan’s nomination to become the new NARA archivist could be favorably reported to the full Senate.