Hearing Held on Bill to Create Holocaust Insurance Registry

On February 8, 2007, the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on legislation (H.R. 1746) that would require insurers to file disclosures of policyholder information from Holocaust-Era policies with the Secretary of Commerce. In addition, the bill would require the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to establish and maintain a “Holocaust Insurance Registry” storing the information gleaned by the Secretary of Commerce and to make it publicly accessible via the Internet.

The Bush Administration is opposed to the bill on the grounds that it would undermine negotiations with foreign governments and insurers to resolve claims without resorting to costly litigation.

NARA’s role in the hearing was to detail the potential scope and infrastructure costs associated with the database. Dr. Michael Kurtz, Assistant Archivist for Records Services, expressed concerns about the uncertainty surrounding the size and scope of the Registry and the diversion of financial resources from NARA’s core programs. He noted that the uncertainties made it difficult to estimate the costs of creating and maintaining the database. He cited a ballpark figure of $28 million and noted that it would make the registry a large part of NARA’s program responsibilities.

Dr. Kurtz also questioned the feasibility of the funding mechanism set up to fund the database. The funding for the database would come from penalty fees assessed against insurance companies who did not comply with the filing requirements under the bill. Dr. Kurtz noted the Catch-22 nature of the funding mechanism. If insurance companies complied with the law, NARA would have the responsibility of maintaining a potentially huge number of names and information in the database, but less funding to maintain it.

Kurtz also pointed out that while the legislation has a 10-year statute of limitation for individuals filing claims, it does not have a sunset date for the Archives to maintain the registry on-line in a web-accessible format.