AOTUS: Providing Services during a Pandemic

April 7, 2020

David S. Ferriero
Archivist of the United States

The National Archives is committed to the health and safety of our visitors and staff, and we continue to do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While our museums and facilities are closed to the public, we continue to protect the records in our custody and perform mission-essential emergency services to support our nation and citizens. These functions include providing access to records needed to support emergency shelter, medical procedures, and funeral services for America’s veterans; the publication of the Federal Register; and providing emergency records loan services to the U.S. Congress.

The safety and security of the records in our care are a paramount concern. Our buildings may be closed, but a representative of the records custodial unit walks through stack areas every three days, looking for leaks, pest infestations, and large deviations from temperature and relative humidity guidelines. Facility managers also review building environmental data at least daily when they are on site.

National Personnel Records Center
While I approved the temporary closure of the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) to support stay-at-home orders issued for St. Louis City and County and to protect our staff from the potential transmission of COVID-19, a select group of NARA staff continue providing mission-critical services. For the NPRC, this means providing access to records needed to support emergency shelter, medical procedures, and funeral services for America’s veterans.

NPRC’s holdings include medical records and patient clinical records from military hospitals across the world. These documents are often used to support emergency medical treatments for veterans. The Center also provides prompt access to military service records needed to help homeless veterans obtain shelter and to support funeral honors and burials in national cemeteries. Working in concert with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration and private-sector funeral homes across the country, our staff responds to more than 1,000 burial-related requests each week.

The national pandemic emergency has temporarily disrupted many of the services we provide, including routine access to military records. However, the critical requests described above continue to be promptly serviced. If you have an urgent need for access to military service records, you may fax your request to 314 801-0764. This is a dedicated line for emergencies only. If your request is not urgent, I ask that you consider delaying it until we are past this national emergency.

Federal Register
The Office of the Federal Register (OFR) provides access to the official text of Federal laws, Presidential documents, administrative regulations and notices, and descriptions of Federal organizations, programs and activities. While the majority of Federal Register staff are working remotely, a very small crew remains on site to receive documents from agencies, the White House, and Congress.

Despite the disruption, the Federal Register, with Government Publishing Office (GPO), has published over 1,100 documents in 12 daily issues of the Federal Register, including emergency documents concerning the pandemic from CDC, HHS, FDA, and DHS and other agencies. You may view the significant pandemic-related documents published on the Federal Register website.

The online version of the Code of Federal Regulations is up to date, and the Federal Register team is working with its GPO partners to minimize the effect of the operating constraints on the next update to the hardbound editions.

The Federal Register also added nine additional agencies to the digital submission program. This brings the total number of agencies using the digital portal to 205, accounting for approximately 89 percent of documents filed since March 16.

Congressional Records 
Another mission-critical service is providing emergency records loan services to the U.S. Congress. NARA’s Center for Legislative Archives serves as the repository and custodial unit for the official records of the House of Representatives and Senate.

Although the records of the most recent Congresses are closed to public access under House and Senate access rules, they are subject to the recall of congressional committee chairs to support the current business of Congress. Typically, the Center sends between one to two million pages of textual and electronic records back to committees each year.

Under emergency situations such as the current pandemic, designated Center staff currently teleworking are called in to process and deliver the loans. Although the number of emergency loan requests is often limited, the value of the service during a crisis is crucial to the work of Congress and the national interest.

This is an unprecedented and very difficult time for everyone. I am grateful to our staff for their continued dedication and commitment to serve the American people and our nation.