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Witness Testimony of Mr. William J. Bosanko, Executive for Agency Services, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Good morning Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and members of the Committee. Thank you for inviting me to this hearing, and thank you for all that you do to honor and support our Nation’s veterans.

The National Archives has a long and proud history of supporting our veterans. Every day, we assist veterans and their families by providing them with the records necessary to prove military service in order to claim a benefit or receive an honor. Our National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis holds approximately 60 million Official Military Personnel Files, and we respond to more than one million requests for these records every year. Here at the National Archives in Washington, DC, and College Park, MD, we permanently archive and provide access to the historical records of our Armed Services that document the actions and heroism of many generations of military veterans, from the Revolutionary War to present times, so that historians, filmmakers, and genealogists can tell the stories of those who served. I would also like to add that NARA is proud to employ over 480 veterans, including the Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero.

The Veteran’s Benefits Administration (VBA) has a primary role to play in serving our Nation’s veterans. Its mission is to provide veterans, service members, and their families with access to the benefits to which they are entitled. Central to this mission is the VBA claims process. The VBA is building a new electronic system, the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), to transform the paper-intensive process into a faster, more efficient, and secure paperless system.

One aspect of building VBMS and speeding the claims process involves the digitization of paper claims. In 2010, the VBA approached NARA for advice on how to employ scanning technology and apply proven records management practices to scan and automatically extract data from paper claims forms. NARA had recently undertaken a successful project to digitize Civilian Official Personnel Folders at the National Personnel Records Center. As part of this project, we had employed cutting-edge technology that has the ability to scan a form and to “learn” where to look on the form to extract the necessary data. This technology had the potential to be useful for extracting data from VBA claims forms.

NARA entered into a one-year agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in June 2010 to help design a scanning architecture and a process that would meet VBA’s particular needs. Under this agreement, NARA mapped out a scanning workflow for claims processing, configured a scanning system, trained the scanning system to recognize the data on VBA’s forms, and developed a way to index the data so that it could be efficiently retrieved when needed. NARA also agreed to perform physical scanning of paper documents, and hired a limited number of temporary employees to manually scan paper VBA forms. A pilot of the system was successfully tested in two VA regional offices, demonstrating that the architecture and process had potential to meet VBA’s needs.

Based on the success of the first pilot, NARA signed a second one-year agreement with the VA in June 2011 to further refine the scanning workflow and hardware configuration and to continue to improve the system’s ability to automatically recognize and compile data from VBA forms. We successfully pilot-tested these refinements in additional VA offices. The system can now recognize and compile data from 170 different VBA document types. NARA and VBA have demonstrated that the system can handle the scanning of up to 600,000 images a month from claims supplied by 5 VA facilities.

We are nearing our completion of meeting the requirements to the VA under the terms of the two year-long agreements. Our current agreement with the VA ends on June 26, 2012.

Thank you again for inviting me to testify. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.