Welcome Remarks for the Virtual Public Interest Declassification Board Public Meeting
October 7, 2020
Good afternoon! I am David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States. Normally, I would welcome you to “my house” – in the McGowan Theater here at the National Archives in Washington DC. Today, however, I am welcoming you to “my office” due to the COVID-19 National Emergency.
I am joining you through our WebEx video platform and on the National Archives YouTube Channel. With our buildings closed to the public, and much of our staff performing their work remotely, our staff here in Washington, DC, and in facilities around our nation are continuing to serve the American people.
Our staff are assisting Veterans and their families claim benefits, helping Federal agencies with their records responsibilities, and responding to researcher requests. We continue to add and update descriptions in the National Archives online catalog, enhancing and improving access to our records. Since March, our staff have added over 865,000 descriptions to the National Archives catalog. They have also added over 10 million digitized images to the catalog.
In August, we launched the Presidential Libraries Explorer. It complements the Record Group Explorer that we deployed late in 2019. They are next generation digital finding aids that also offer users a visualization tool to help them find digitized images by collection or record group. They include textual records, audio and video files, photographs, and artifacts.
Our staff developed interactive programing and created online exhibits to help our nation celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote.
As the Presidential election season enters its final month, our Federal Register staff is busy preparing for their role in the Electoral College process.
This work is important – and meets three goals in our strategic plan to “Make Access Happen,” “Connect with our customers,” and “Maximize our value to the Nation.” I commend our staff for their work, especially during this challenging time.
With all this important work continuing during the pandemic, I am pleased to speak at this virtual public meeting of the Public Interest Declassification Board.
I would like to thank the PIDB for their work during this difficult year. Despite the pandemic, they published an important report to the President, Modernization of the U.S. National Security Classification and Declassification System in June–– bringing attention to an unheralded issue that is nevertheless critical in the digital age we now live and work.
Their report was intended to inspire the government to think differently about policies and practices that may have worked well in a previous era––but are no longer effective in this digital era. Just as we at the National Archives did in developing a new model for electronic records management that includes entirely new processes and policies.
Earlier this month, I watched PIDB Member John Tierney testify before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the recommendations in this report. His testimony and their report are compelling and worthy of discussion.
The issue of declassification is of concern to the National Archives.
Through the National Declassification Center, our staff processes millions of pages of classified records each year for declassification to make them available to the public. This work requires the participation of agency partners who have equity in the information contained in the records. In that sense, the NDC is already taking a federated approach as agencies review their information for declassification taking their cue from the NDC staff on records that need their review.
The NDC prioritizing the review of records that our researchers want to see through the Indexing-on-Demand program. Through this process, driven by researchers, this year the NDC released:
- Intelligence records from the Chief of Naval Operations during the Korean War;
- Department of State records related to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during the Carter administration and records relating to the U.S.––Canada International Joint Commission
- Department of the Navy records and motion picture records related to nuclear testing in the Pacific;
- Conversations from the Nixon White House tapes; and
- Motion pictures related to the development of the Polaris weapons systems.
It is important, though, to recognize that challenges lie ahead with the growth of digital records. Our mission is to drive openness, cultivate public participation in Government, and strengthen our nation’s democracy through public access to high-value Government records.
The National Archives and the NDC will be an active participant in discussions seeking new solutions to improve declassification processes for electronic records. We look forward to working cooperatively with the other government agencies to harness use of advanced technologies and tools necessary to aid archival processing and declassification review.
Thank you for your work on behalf of the American People, and I look forward to your continued interest and engagement in seeking solutions to modernize the classification and declassification system.