Largest OSI caseload sent to National Archives

  • Published
  • By Thomas Brading
  • OSI Public Affairs

Half-a-decade's worth of files from the Office of Special Investigations, totaling nearly 17,000 closed cases, were loaded into cargo vans and transported to the National Archives a year ahead of schedule.

Just outside the nation's capital, in Suitland, Maryland, houses the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The facility is home to thousands of official documents across multiple government agencies, including OSI.

For years, OSI has relocated old case files to the 789,000-square-foot building, but the two-day delivery, from Dec. 15 and 16, of 1,941 boxes is the biggest shipment yet, said Michel Stephens, OSI's oversight file repository supervisor.

"We've been able to make large deliveries three times this year," Stephens said. "This is by far the largest one. We cleared out the entire file room.”

In the coming months, the team expects to receive newly closed cases and will begin the archiving process all over again, but on a smaller scale, she said.  

The ability to transfer the files, some dating back to 2017, did not happen overnight. During the last few months, every member of the file team worked around the clock to complete the project, Stephens said.

Overcoming setbacks

The delivery reservation was made in August due to a backlog of requests at NARA, which was exacerbated by the lack of staff following the spread of COVID-19, according to Victoria Evans, OSI’s Information Services flight chief.

Because of COVID-19's spread, many organizations, including the National Archives, temporarily closed their doors, and are still not fully staffed. As a result, the organization has not fully bounced back from the request backlog.  

In addition, there is a deadline for sending all paper documents to the archives before December 2022. With that in mind, the OSI filing team set out in 2019 to clean out their filing room, but encountered roadblocks due to COVID-19, Stephens said.

“The file room never stopped working during COVID; so we did what we needed to do and took all the proper precautions,” she added, pointing out her team also never stopped moving or preparing, something she credits to staying on top of things.

“We continue to prepare cases to go up there,” she said, referring to the NARA. But, “when they opened back up, it was with limited services.”

As a result, the OSI team spent four months sitting on a waiting list before 40 pallets of files left the Russell Knox Building in Quantico, Virginia, for their new home among countless other historical and government records.

Looking ahead

With an eye toward a paperless future, electronic copies will eventually replace paper ones for all official documents, at both the Air Force and the National Archives, Stephens said.  

Despite this, the climate of uncertainty in a post-COVID world remains at the back of their minds. Evans believes everything could stop at any moment, and if it does, she knows from experience that taking a routine shipment can become a months-long struggle.

For them, being a year ahead of schedule seemed like being on time.

"Our urgency was [because] we didn't know or control anything, so if [NARA] suddenly had to shut down again, whether it's Omicron or a Delta strain, whatever happens, affects us," Evans said.  

So if anything were to happen, "at least we have everything empty," she continued, referring to the newly-emptied filing room, which will soon be modernized by removing the now obsolete shelves and installing digital media resources to better digitize future case files.

However, digitizing files is nothing new for the team. In preparation for their NARA shipment, the team worked overtime scanning every archived file, Stephens said. By her estimation, each member of their team roughly thirty hours a week preparing for the transfer.  

At one point, the scanners stopped working and they had to get approval from NARA for the scheduled file transfer to proceed. Fortunately, NARA was willing to work with them, but only if they submitted a report with detailed information about the unscanned documents.

“For a couple of weeks, we [went] through every case file with our team, pulled data from every file in every box that wasn’t scanned to produce this report,” she said.

After combing through every file for weeks, the team “threw enough of a fit that the scanners got to work [and] we could sync information and do it right,” Stephens said, joking.

Even with setbacks, they met their goal and all of the case files were approved by NARA by Dec. 7. However, none of it would have been possible without the hardworking team who made it happen, Stephens said.

“The team is top notch,” she said. “They work without griping. The new hires came in starting strongly and [everyone] worked tirelessly to keep everything going through COVID-19.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: The YouTube video of this event can be seen at: