About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks 40th Anniversary of ISOO

Welcome Remarks at the 40th Anniversary of ISOO
McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
December 6, 2018


Good morning and welcome to my House! It is nice to have you here as we celebrate 40 years of the Information Security Oversight Office.

After this event, I invite you to visit our exhibit galleries upstairs. Our current exhibit, “Remembering Vietnam,” closes on January 6. It follows American involvement in Vietnam from World War II through the fall of Saigon and uses newly discovered and declassified original documents, photographs, film footage, and artifacts to illuminate 12 critical episodes that divided the peoples of both the United States and Vietnam.

Before I begin, I want to take a moment to pay tribute to Steve Garfinkel, the longest-serving Director of ISOO, who passed away in September. Steve began his career at the General Services Administration, where he became an expert on information policy issues and managed legal issues for the National Archives and Records Service, then a part of the General Services Administration. He helped draft the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974 and the Presidential Records Act in 1978. President Jimmy Carter appointed him Director of ISOO in 1980, and he went on to serve for almost 22 years. During that time, he made an indelible mark on the classification system and he helped draft executive orders, including:

  • Executive Order 12937, which resulted in the declassification of almost 44 million pages of records from World War II to the Vietnam War here at the National Archives, and
  • Executive Order 12958, which was a watershed event for declassification policy with the establishment of the concept of “automatic declassification,” which has defined declassification ever since.

In 2000, he was also appointed Chair of the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Interagency Working Group. Under Steve’s leadership, the Executive branch declassified over 8 million pages of responsive records. After Steve retired from Federal Service, President George W. Bush recognized his expertise and appointed him as a member of the Public Interest Declassification Board. Steve believed strongly in transparency and in the importance of history. And later earned his teaching certificate and became a beloved high school history teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland. It was this last job that he treasured most of all.

On a significant anniversary, it’s customary to reflect on the preceding years and examine how we’ve arrived at where we are today.

Forty years ago, on June 28, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed Executive Order 12065, “National Security Information” which established ISOO as part of GSA. With this, ISOO became responsible for overseeing compliance with the classification safeguarding and declassification programs in Executive branch agencies.

The initial responsibilities assigned to ISOO have both changed and grown as subsequent Presidents have expressed their authority regarding information security.

In 1993, ISOO became responsible for aspects of the National Industrial Security Program, established by Executive Order 12829.

In fiscal year 1995, ISOO moved briefly from GSA to the Office of Management and Budget. Then, and of particular significance, in fiscal year 1996, ISOO came to the National Archives. This marked the beginning of a period of significant growth and the capability, prominence and results of ISSO.  At that time, the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Secrecy, the Moynihan Commission, remarked in its final report that ISOO has “achieved some success in the face of limited resources and personnel and being shuffled among three different agencies in as many years.” But that it “did not conduct a single onsite reviews of any agency’s classified product for the two years between 1994 and 1996.” That quickly changed.

When ISOO arrived at NARA, it was a staff of 10. Today, it consists of a staff of 25. In 1996, it was tucked into a small corner of this building with a single, outdated secure conference room with nothing more than two secure phones and a secure fax. Today, it occupies new and expanded office spaces and multiple secure areas and utilizes a variety of secure communication tools.

As ISOO grew and it built on its strong reputation as an honest broker, always striving to strike the right balance between secrecy and openness, the Executive branch again brought additional authority to ISOO. In 2000, it became responsible for supporting the Public Interest Declassification Board. In 2010, it gained responsibilities related to information sharing policies for state, local, tribal, and private sector entities. In that same year, it was named as the Executive agent for implementing and overseeing the program established under Executive Order 13556 for Controlled Unclassified Information.

Throughout its history, ISOO has had a role with respect to mandatory declassification review appeals. But today, it supports the expanded missions of the interagency security classification appeals panel.

ISOO has been a component of the National Archives for more than half of its 40 years. It is an indispensable and valued part of this agency.

The National Archives plays a vital role in our democracy and services as our nation’s record keeper holding the records of the Federal Government in trust for the American people. Our mission is provide public access to these records. Public access strengthens democracy by allowing Americans to claim their rights to citizenship, hold their government accountable and understand their history so that they can participate more effectively in their government.

And ISOO plays and important role in this mission. With their oversight and assistance, executive branch agencies have declassified many hundreds of millions of pages of historical records.

The National Archives is the beneficiary of this work and makes these declassified records available to the public in our research rooms, online, and in exhibits like “Remembering Vietnam” upstairs.

Once declassified, these records help Americans understand their history and the actions of their government. And they can help citizens participate in their government in a more informed manner.

President Carter envisioned ISOO as the government’s expert on classified national security information policy. And it has proven itself time and time again over the last 40 years.

ISOO has always sought to balance the need for secrecy and the need for transparency. Secrecy is important to protect our national interests and our security. Transparency is equally important in our democracy to provide citizens with information that affords them the opportunity to engage and participate.

As ISOO begins its fifth decade, its work takes on new importance. In its most recent annual report to the President, ISOO called for reforms to the classification and declassification systems, driving changes to address the realities of electronic records is critical to the health of the classification system as well as for the lifecycle of records.

When he created ISOO, President Carter had a vision to reform the classification system. At the time, he stated “While some material must be classified, the government classifies too much information, classifies it too highly and for too long. These practices violate the public’s right to know, impose unnecessary costs and weaken protection for truly sensitive information by undermining respect for all classification.”

President Carter’s order did improve the classification system. And those themes have been echoed by Presidents and their EOs and ISOO Directors alike in the 40 years since.

The world has changed remarkably in the last 40 years. I don’t think any of us could imagine the changes that have occurred and how information is created, used, and shared. The one constant has been the call of ISOO for continual and meaningful reform. Progress has been made, but reforms have not kept pace with the way government operates.

Our Government is increasingly digital. This has led to an exponential growth of government data and how it is created, disseminated, used, and stored. There’s widespread agreement among leaders and users on the need to modernize the classification system and similarly our records management policies. Modernization will require the adoption of new policies and increase use of technology. As the lifecycles of classified information and records are inextricably linked. Modernization is an imperative for the National Archives. I have highlighted aspects of the large role played by ISOO today as they work to assist, oversee and partner with many others who have a role in the complex information security arena.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to highlight and thank the many departments and agencies, congressional committees, National Security Council staff, and public interest groups who have played a real and meaningful role in the history of ISOO.

Let me close by thanking our Keynote Speaker Tom Blanton and the former ISOO Directors who are with us today. I am looking forward to hearing their thoughts on ISOO’s past and its future. After all carved on the monumental statues on Pennsylvania Avenue “Study the Past” and “What is Past is Prologue” dictate the mission of this agency.

I’d like to also thank Mark Bradley and his staff for the work that they do every day to help the American people access the records that they need.

And now I have the honor of reading to you a letter delivered this morning from the White House…which is in very small type.


To the Honorable David Ferriero

Congratulations to the Information Security Oversight Office for its 40 years of distinguished service to the American people. For four decades, ISOO has made significant contributions to the safety and security of our Nation. The dedication of those serving ISOO has helped ensure appropriate sharing and safeguarding of national security information across government and industry and improved declassification practices for greater government transparency and accountability. The team at ISOO should feel tremendous pride in its outstanding work protecting the American people at home and abroad. I am confident ISOO will continue its work advancing issues of critical importance to national security. Thank you for your exceptional leadership and congratulations on this remarkable achievement.


Donald J. Trump



Thank you!