6.3 Federal Records Centers
Through its nationwide network of 18 facilities with more than 1,100 federal employees, the centers serve 400 federal agencies. Federal Records Centers store and service every kind of federal record—tax returns, claims files for military veterans, blueprints of federal buildings and structures, cancelled checks for Social Security payments and tax refunds, bankruptcy court records, inmate files on federal prisoners, and maps of national parks to name just a few. Federal Records Centers hold records for any citizen who has ever served in the military, had a Social Security number, or applied for a passport.
The volume of records housed in Federal Records Centers is staggering—with 30 million cubic feet containing nearly 87 billion pages. The volume of transactions processed is also massive—Federal Records Centers fulfilled 8.9 million reference requests in fiscal 2015.
The records in the physical custody of Federal Records Centers legally belong to the federal agencies that created them and generally can be requested only by authorized representatives of these agencies. However, a number of federal records can be accessed by the public under agreement with the owning federal agency and this continues to enhance open government.
The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri and Valmeyer, Illinois, stores and services personnel records of former members of the military and civil service. These records are very important for individuals to establish eligibility for key benefits, such as housing, medical care, and retirement or even the right to be interred in a military cemetery. National Personnel Records Center serviced 1.2 million requests for military and civilian records in fiscal 2015.
Federal Records Centers provided crucial assistance to individuals in the aftermath of disasters. Many people lost not only their houses and possessions to the 2005 hurricanes but also their personal records. Some were left without a single scrap of paper to prove who they were—no driver's license, no passport, and no birth certificate. In the aftermath of the storms, the National Personnel Records Center saw an uptick in requests from veterans in the affected areas desperate for any documentation that would help them prove their identities, qualify for benefits, and begin to rebuild their lives. The National Personnel Records Center instituted special procedures to identify and give priority processing to requests from these affected veterans.
In addition to storing and servicing temporary records, Federal Records Centers plays a key role in the lifecycle of permanent records and helping to foster open government. Permanent records, as the name suggests, are records that warrant preservation by the federal government beyond the time they are needed for administrative, fiscal, or legal purposes because of their historical or other value. Federal Records Centers protect and preserve permanent records from the time they are no longer needed for daily business until they are accessioned into the National Archives. Archival control of the permanent records is assured because the records are in continuous federal custody for their entire lifecycle. About 90 percent of textual permanent records that are accessioned into the National Archives have come through the federal records center system.
The Federal Records Centers have ably served the federal government and the citizens of the United States for more than 50 years. As the needs of federal agencies change and grow, NARA's Federal Records Centers are also changing and growing to ensure that they will continue to protect the information assets of the federal government.