National Archives Operations during COVID-19: Mission Critical Functions Continue

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 are continuing to perform mission essential emergency services to support our nation and citizens. These mission essential 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. 

National Archives Building, Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC. Photo by Richard Schneider

National Personnel Records Center
Like all other NARA facilities across our nation, 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. However, 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 collections are often referenced 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 for deceased veterans. 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 in the GPO Building to receive documents from agencies, the White House and Congress. 

Despite the disruption, the Federal Register with 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.

As a measure to enable more flexible work, the Federal Register added nine additional agencies to the digital submission program and began accepting digitally signed documents from them. This brings the total number of agencies using the digital portal to 205 – accounting for 85 percent of the documents filed in the last two weeks.  

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. Congressional holdings span the history of the nation under the Constitution, beginning in 1789 and running through recent congresses, and document the history of representative government at the Federal level.

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, and their designated representatives, to support the current business of Congress. These requests for records are sent to the House and Senate Archivists, who forward the requests to the Center for processing. Under normal operating conditions, Center staff locate and pull the relevant records, prepare the associated paperwork and data entries, and deliver the records to the Hill, where they are accepted and signed for by authorized staff. Typically, the Center sends between one to two million pages of textual records 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.

National Archives Building, Constitution Avenue, March 22, 2020. Photo by Richard Schneider

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.

8 thoughts on “National Archives Operations during COVID-19: Mission Critical Functions Continue

  1. I am constantly amazed at the varied and essential tasks of the National Archives – brought to light by this emergency – and by the dedication of all federal employees who continue to perform those tasks. Thank you.

  2. COVID-19 is changing everything about life and work as we know it. We’re all focused on how to best protect and support our families, employees, students, customers and communities in the face of this unfolding crisis. On behalf of our Proprietor, I want to let you know that our thoughts are with those who are affected.

  3. We’re providing some essential services during this unprecedented time. If you have documents that need to be scanned, archived, or indexed, you can drop them off at one of our 170+ US service centers, or schedule us to swing by to pick them up from your location. Our document management platform also offers cloud-based storage to make it easy to collaborate remotely with your team. For more information you may visit to https://www.e-arc.com/covid-19/

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