NARA and Declassification

Bi-annual Report on Operations of the National Declassification Center

Reporting period: January 1, 2011 – June 30, 2011

This is the third report on the status of the National Declassification Center (NDC). NDC status reports are issued bi-annually, approximately two weeks after the reporting deadlines of June 30 and December 31.

Executive Summary:

In 18 months, the NDC has shown measurable progress. The center also faces certain challenges. The initial collaborative effort between government agency programs begun in late 2009 to draft a new declassification review and release process has developed into a stable and streamlined methodology. The segregation of less-sensitive and newly declassified records from the most sensitive ("Releasing What We Can") as well as the completion of equity review for the more sensitive national security information ("Protecting What We Must") is allowing us to provide records to the public more quickly than with past practices. Because of our new processes, inter-agency cooperation, and data gathering analysis, we have evaluated 30% of the back log, and facilitated prioritized review and release for two special collections. Our challenge for the remaining 70% involves confirming past original agency review for Restricted Data/Formerly Restricted Data (RD/FRD) and/or arranging the review resources that will be necessary for the identification of RD/FRD in records that have been assessed and identified as needing this legally required review. Nearly half of the remaining records within the back log have been confirmed as still needing this review, and that number may grow as we continue our assessment of data continuing to be supplied by the affected agencies. We are working with our agency partners, including the Department of Energy to address the page-level review required for these documents. Inter-agency support for the NDC remains strong, and we remain confident that we will successfully resolve this issue and meet the 2013 deadline in the Presidential Memorandum.

The NDC was established by Executive Order 13526, "Classified National Security Information," under the direction of the Archivist of the United States, to coordinate the timely and appropriate processing of referrals of 25-year old and older classified records of permanent historical value. The December 29, 2009 Presidential Memorandum accompanying E.O. 13526 specified a December 31, 2013 deadline for making available to the public the declassified records within the approximately 400 million pages currently back logged (that is, currently accessioned but not yet fully processed for release to the public) at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and under NDC purview.

In The Strategic Plan of the National Archives and Records Administration, 2006 – 2016 (revised 2009), the Archivist singled out this inter-agency center as reflecting "the ongoing challenge to balance the needs of national security and the right of citizens to have access to the records of their Government."

Each NDC Status Report will contain the following three sections: a narrative highlighting events and activities of the previous six months; a brief description of the interagency cooperation during the previous six months; and a quantitative update that charts cumulative progress on the back log and against the current year"s NDC Civilian and Defense Annual Work Plans, since the January 1, 2010 stand up. These plans are Appendix B and C to the overall Prioritization Plan and may be may be viewed at http://www.archives.gov/declassification/ndc/final-prioritization-plan.pdf.

Highlights:

  • Openness and Public Comment:
    • We continue to invite public comments and suggestions by way of the NDC Blog and email box ndc@nara.gov. Updated information regarding new releases and other NDC initiatives may also be found on the NDC website: http://archives.gov/declassification/ndc/. During the reporting period, we blogged about our processes, special efforts, and certain records we have released.
    • In February, we held a small meeting at Archives II with several public interest group representatives to discuss our progress and the previous NDC report.
  • Process Improvement:
    • Our new Metrics Team, created last autumn, continued its work to provide end-to-end tracking for all NDC operations, and our current numbers reflect their clean up and continuing analysis of our data. The work of this team is allowing us to pinpoint potential chokepoints in our processes, report more accurate production statistics, and work toward streamlining all of our data capture efforts.
    • Working with other NARA components, we formulated a new policy for more efficiently moving records from classified to declassified stacks in order to speed their availability to the public.
    • We implemented a new process for interagency declassification review and processing of special media and electronic records, including coordinating and facilitating special media original reviews due December 31, 2011.
    • With the support of most major agencies, we implemented several new work processes, including digitization, for requests under the Freedom of Information Act and the Mandatory Declassification Review provisions of E.O. 13526 for classified Federal records to provide for more timely responses to public requests. In a comparison of similar active second quarters, in Fiscal Year 2010 we closed 53 cases; in Fiscal Year 2011 we closed 77 cases. We expect our case handling efficiency to continue to improve as the new processes are fully implemented and adopted by staff.
  • Review:
    • We coordinated and completed the declassification and release of material associated with the Pentagon Papers (40th anniversary) on June 13, 2011. This release marks the first authorized availability of the complete report to the Vietnam taskforce and can be found at http://www.archives.gov/research/pentagon-papers/. We are currently processing the supporting documentation and will make that available in the near future.
    • In conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in April, we released the oldest classified documents in the Federal government held at the National Archives. On the use of secret writing, these are available for public use at the National Archives as well as online at http://www.foia.cia.gov/.
    • We continued our declassification review and processing of information relating to the Berlin Wall construction (50th anniversary). We are planning a seminar, including a panel discussion, related to the opening of the records, for October 27, 2011 at the National Archives building in Washington, DC.
    • Agencies are continuing to do page-by-page equity review for their referrals in the NDC Interagency Referral Center. During the six-month reporting period (January 1 – June 30, 2011), 779,451 referred pages were completed for equity review. Of those pages, 321,597 were declassified and 457,854 pages were exempted.
    • The NDC Joint Referral Center (JRC), which coordinates and facilitates the review and referral of the Department of Defense (DOD) subset to the back log, is conducting a 100% quality assurance review of untabbed (non-exempted or referred) DOD records and a final review of DOD referrals to DOD components. The Armed Services, Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Security Agency (NSA), Missile Defense Agency (MDA), and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) are participating. In June, Department of State representatives also began equity review there. During the six-month reporting period, the JRC completed 1,590,311 pages, declassifying 1,555,300 pages. This is triple the amount of pages completed from the previous reporting period. Since January 1, 2010, the JRC has completed 2,224,631 pages, declassifying 2,107,196 pages. These results are reflected in the NDC Status of the Workload and Production numbers after the records have been returned to NARA and have completed final processing.
    • Through the NDC, the Presidential Libraries prioritized 1,364,471 pages within certain collections of the Truman through Carter Administrations, as well as the China-associated materials within the Kissinger Personal Paper Collection, for completion of referral review through the Remote Archives Capture (RAC) project. As of June 30, 2011, equity-holding agencies had completed review on 736,465 of those pages. RAC-reviewed pages are not reported as part of the Federal accessioned-records back log in the Status of the Workload and Production portion below.
  • New issues and business processes under development:
    • To provide declassified historical documents to our customers in a timelier manner, we recognized the need to track all records from accessioning to their final availability in order to facilitate referral review for declassification and release. We continued our work, begun in September 2010, with a contractor to develop the requirements for an IT system that would be responsive to agency needs, including improved NDC processes, improved data collection, and integration.
    • We stood up an Information Technology Working Group, headed by officers from the MDA and the US Air Force (USAF) Declassification Programs, to encourage inter-agency examination of uses of newer technology, such as context accumulation techniques, the computer generation of standardized metadata, and enhanced information retrieval tools. Although much of this technology will not directly impact our back log processing, it will have applications as we move further into electronic records and digitization.
    • We are hosting a Declassification Conference, November 7-10, for executive branch declassification professionals. The objectives of the conference are to enhance our community's protection of national security information, promote cohesion and common methodology among declassification professionals and foster greater understanding of our individual and collective responsibility to protect national classified information during the records management lifecycle through purposeful and deliberate declassification guidance.
  • Interagency Cooperation:
    • During the six-month reporting period, agency personnel from Army, USAF, OSD, NSA, CIA, DIA, and Department of Energy (DOE) participated in daily Evaluation Team activities, frequently providing staffing for up to three inter-agency teams per day/four days each week. In addition, the following agencies supported Quality Assurance Team and special targeted review activities: Army, Department of State, NSA, DIA, USAF, JCS, CIA, and DOE. DOE continued the expansion of its workforce commitment in order to assess all records in the back log. CIA expanded its capability to assess certain specific record series and to assist in Kyl-Lott reviews of those series.
    • Many of our records cannot be processed because they lack the required Kyl-Lott review for RD/FRD. Several agencies, such as the Department of State, are addressing these required page-level reviews within their records with the assistance of NARA personnel. In early June, we stood up an interagency team to address Kyl-Lott review issues in Department of the Navy records. 50% of the remaining back log consists of Navy records lacking documented Kyl-Lott review. Although, we are working closely with the Department of the Navy to address this critical issue, the complexity in these records does require careful review for RD/FRD, and they cannot move through the remainder of our process without the required page-level review.
    • Quarterly NDC Advisory Panel meetings were held with office-level heads from the Intelligence, Defense, Law Enforcement, and Diplomatic Communities in order to keep them apprised of progress and issues. During this six-month reporting period, we also met with office directors and declassification managers for Army, Commerce, CIA, DOE, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), USAF, National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), Navy, NSA, Department of State, MDA, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (OUSD(I)), OSD, and the US Trade Representative (USTR). Every three months, an on-site agency meeting was held to discuss working level concerns and suggestions for process improvements.
    • We briefed the Department of State Advisory Committee on Historic Diplomatic Documentation (HAC) on NDC progress in March.

Status of Workload and Production:

Because of the increased maturity of our metrics program, we are better able to report our accomplishments. This expanded capability has of necessity affected all our numbers, from the initial back log reported to the status of the various stages of processing. With that in mind, we are reporting production using a reporting period of January 1, 2010 (establishment of the NDC by E.O.) to June 30, 2011. These production numbers reflect the number of back log pages evaluated in the NDC for referral quality review. A subset of these pages has been declassified and is available for public use. The remaining pages that have completed NDC referral quality evaluation are in the NDC final indexing queue, have been excluded for Department of Energy sensitivities, or have been exempted from automatic declassification by an agency.

Included in the pages released to the public during the January – June 2011 reporting period are documents from record group (RG) 43, International Conferences, Commissions, and Expositions; RG 65, FBI; RG 84, Foreign Service Posts of the Department of State; documents from a number of military services-related record groups; RG 306, U.S. Information Agency; and RG 472, U.S. Forces in SE Asia. Additional information on these and other releases is provided on our website.

Total back log pages as of NDC stand up on January 1, 2010: 386.2 million pages (vice 417.9 million pages reported in the last report). This new number is based on our developed metrics capability to analyze and de-conflict the available data and research the type of containers and records affected.

Total pages evaluated in the NDC referral quality review process (January 1, 2010 – June 30, 2011): 117,404,134 pages.

Total pages that have completed all processing: 18,038,692 pages. Total pages released to the public (also includes 603,126 pages released in the Interagency Referral Center; January 1, 2010 – June 30, 2011): 16,594,585 pages.

Total back log pages requiring referral quality review processing as of June 30, 2011: 268,795,866 pages.

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