About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee

Good morning and welcome to the second meeting of the fourth term of the Freedom of Information Act Advisory Committee.

I am David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I join you from my office at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Once again––and for the fourth time in 2020––the Committee meets virtually as we soon enter our tenth month of physically distancing ourselves from one another.

Today––December 10th––marks seventy-two years since the United Nations adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nearly two decades before Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act, the U.N. declared in 1948 that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. That right, the U.N. declared in Article 19, includes the quote “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” end quote. That freedom is so well enshrined in our American FOIA statute.

I am pleased that the Committee will discuss today the intersection between FOIA and classified records, an issue of great importance to the National Archives and ripe for examination by the FOIA Advisory Committee. Bill Fischer of the National Declassification Center here at the National Archives and John Powers of our Information Security Oversight Office––ISOO––are joining us today to give overviews of the work of their offices and how this work relates to Government transparency.

Over the past 18 months, ISOO has engaged with a diverse group of stakeholders and subject matter experts from federal agencies, Congress, and civil society groups to gather their recommendations on data collection reform. The desired outcome is to end outdated and ineffective data and information collections about information security programs government-wide. This year, despite the pandemic, ISOO is piloting a new questionnaire that consolidates and streamlines data collection. That process for reform mirrors the collaborative work that is a hallmark of the FOIA Advisory Committee.

I am also proud of the work of the National Declassification Center––NDC––to systemically declassify records including last year’s culmination of the U.S. Declassification Project for Argentina, the largest government-to-government declassification release in United States history. The project resulted in the declassification and release of more than 11,600 records relating to human rights abuses committed in Argentina between 1975 and 1984.

While not tied directly to FOIA, this historic release of records affirms the National Archives commitment to transparency and illustrates how the NDC and ISOO bring together people and processes to improve declassification and public access to historical records.

As I said at the FOIA Advisory Committee’s kick-off meeting in September, much work is ahead for you. But I am pleased that the Committee’s four subcommittees––looking at national security classification, FOIA process, legislation, and technology––have begun work and are charting their course for the next 18 months.

Finally, as the hours of daylight grow shorter and the time separated from colleagues and loved ones grows longer, I extend best wishes for peace and resilience in this season of light. Please take good care and stay safe.

I now turn the meeting over to the Committee’s Chairperson, Alina Semo.