The nomination hearing for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Archivist took place amidst pressure from government officials to modernize the agency’s record-keeping capabilities.
Colleen Shogan was questioned for the position of the eleventh Archivist to NARA – and the first woman – during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on Sept. 21.
The hearing primarily revolved around recent turmoil regarding the preservation of U.S. documents through digitization and the backlog of veterans’ records.
NARA is responsible for maintaining and preserving presidential and Federal records, and they are critical to ensuring the nation’s history is fully and accurately preserved for the public and future generations, said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the chairman of the committee.
The nation’s most historic documents – like The Constitution and Declaration of Independence – are cared for by the agency, and its modernization efforts are important to preserving records and making them widely accessible.
The government has been pushing NARA to upgrade its IT systems, and the new Archivist will be the official who oversees this movement.
“Citizen engagement with the archives materials online and in person through our nationwide system of archival research rooms and presidential libraries is a top priority for NARA,” Shogan continued, “It is leading the government-wide transition to electronic record keeping.”
Both Sens. Peters and Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., brought up their concerns with the major record backlog that is affecting veterans’ abilities to receive medical care and unemployment assistance. In March, there were over 600,000 backlogged record requests piling up from the pandemic, primarily due to the records not being accessible digitally.
Shogan ensured this would be her top priority and told the senators she plans to visit the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis to meet with the leadership and find creative solutions to alleviate the backlog now and prevent it in the future.
“There has been great progress by the Department of Veterans Affairs in moving to digitize those records in a timely fashion and a reasonable priority. Once those records are digitized and placed in the cloud, then NPRC staff will be able to access them, and the requests will be processed much faster in the future,” Shogan said.
Shogan received her doctoral degree from Yale University and has spent nearly 15 years working in research and with archives. Since 2020, Shogan has served as the Senior Vice President for the White House Historical Association. President Biden nominated her for the open Archivist position on Aug. 3.
Currently, Debra Steidel Wall is the acting archivist for NARA until a candidate for the position is confirmed by the Senate. Wall stepped up in May when the tenth archivist of the U.S. – David Ferriero – retired after nearly thirteen years of service.
“If confirmed, I will have many hills to climb in this position,” Shogan said, “NARA must do [its job] as technologies improve at a lightning speed. Of course, government is not always considered nimble when it comes to innovation, but the National Archives can serve as a leader in its transition to a primarily digital future.”