December , 2009
Frequently Asked Questions About the National Declassification Center (NDC)
Who Established the NDC?
The authority for the NDC is section 3.7 of the Executive Order on Classified National Security Information, which was signed by President Obama on December 29, 2009.
What Will the NDC Accomplish?
It will shorten the amount of time that it takes to declassify a document.
As outlined in section 3.7 of the new order, the NDC will streamline declassification processes, prioritize the declassification of most-sought after records, facilitate referral processes and quality assurance measures, and implement standard declassification criteria for records determined to have permanent historical value.
Section 3.7 provides seven specific areas of focus for the NDC:
(1) timely and appropriate processing of referrals in accordance with section 3.3(d)(3) of this order for accessioned Federal records and transferred Presidential Records.
(2) general interagency declassification activities necessary to fulfill the requirements of sections 3.3, dealing with automatic declassification and 3.4 focusing on systematic declassification;
(3) the exchange among agencies of detailed declassification guidance so that one agency will know when another agency should be involved in the processing of a record, known as equity recognition;
(4) the development of effective, transparent, and standard declassification work processes, training, and quality assurance measures;
(5) the development of solutions to declassification challenges posed by electronic records, special media, and emerging technologies;
(6) the linkage and effective utilization of existing agency databases and the use of new technologies to support declassification activities under the purview of the Center; and
(7) storage and related services, on a reimbursable basis, for Federal records containing classified national security information.
Who Will Operate the NDC?
The Executive Order instructs the Archivist of the United States to appoint a Center Director in consultation with Secretaries of State, Defense, Energy and Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Director of National Intelligence. National Archives employees will staff the NDC and provide support for agency reviewers. Agency heads will assign personnel to the Center review and exempt or declassify information originated by their agency. The NDC Director will be advised by an inter-agency Policy Planning Group (PPG) and assisted by an inter-agency Program Management Team (PMT).
Which Agencies Will Participate in the NDC?
All executive branch agencies who create or are responsible for classified information found in permanently valuable Federal or Presidential records will participate, unless they delegate that authority in writing to another agency.
Where Will the NDC Be Located?
Initially, the NDC will be located at the National Archives at College Park in existing space. It will assume the functions of the voluntary Quality Assurance Review Team, established to review agency declassification decisions and the Inter-agency Referral Center which brings agencies to one central location to adjudicate all referrals identified during the declassification process.. In addition, agencies may establish their own facilities for initial declassification review.
Why is the NDC Necessary?
The current declassification review and release processes have caused a massive and growing backlog of reviewed classified records. There are now about 409 million pages of reviewed Federal records at the National Archives that require referral and archival processing prior to release to the public. Additionally, there almost three million pages of highly sought after scanned images of Presidential records awaiting processing as part of the Remote Archives Capture project.
In addition to the backlog, there remains concern about the quality of some earlier reviews. These issues center on missed equity due to lack of standardized training. These errors led to the passage of the Kyl-Lott Amendments, which require additional review for records pertaining to nuclear weapons design and related information.
The NDC will also address the pressing issue of how to streamline the declassification of electronic records.
What is the Status of the NDC?
Realizing the opportunity to fundamentally change how records are declassified, the National Archives has begun taking steps to meet the challenge. It established a high level inter-agency steering group that will oversee the establishment of the NDC and later serve as a policy planning group for the Center. This group is chaired by Assistant Archivist for Records Services, Washington, Michael Kurtz, who will also serve as the Acting Director of the NDC pending the selection of a permanent director. The National Archives also established a Program Management Team, responsible for working level coordination, data collection, and collaboration with the Defense Change Management Organization, which is conducting a study of current declassification processes.
What Future Challenges Will Be Addressed by the NDC?
The work currently underway may lead to follow-on studies such as improved information technology integration, strategies and implementation of techniques to meet the challenge of “born digital” records, and related changes to processing FOIA and Mandatory declassification review requests.
Who Will Benefit From the NDC?
The research community and the public at large will benefit because the National Archives will be able to make millions of records available more quickly. Therefore citizens will have greater access to their nation’s history. The agencies that create or have information included in classified records that are considered permanently valuable will benefit from a more streamlined, efficient declassification process. Agencies with equity in records created by other agencies will benefit as improved processes, and better training will facilitate better equity recognition.
Where Can I Go to Learn More?
You can visit the NDC web site at www.archives.gov/declassification to see a copy of Executive Order on Classified National Security Information and to obtain updates and results. The web site will also post open forum and other opportunities to learn more. Finally, you can send a comment, question or concern to NDC@nara.gov.