NARA and Declassification

Preface to Report on Declassification Challenges

The following report was prepared at the request of the Archivist of the United States and was provided to him in August. Since that time, under the direction of the Archivist, it has been utilized internally as a guide for both the design of the National Declassification Initiative (NDI) and an ongoing review and adjustment of work processes pertaining to National Archives and Records Administration' (NARA's) safeguarding, declassification, and release programs.

The Archivist is releasing this report in the spirit of transparency and to ensure that all quarters are aware of the challenges faced by NARA in this area, our ongoing efforts to address them, and to highlight the commitment of NARA to fulfilling our responsibilities to both safeguard information that requires continued protection and otherwise seek the prompt declassification and release of information.

Please be advised that this report was prepared by an internal NARA group, and it does not necessarily represent the views of other federal agencies. Moreover, Section III, entitled, "Proposed Initial CONOPS for the NDI," is a draft that is being considered and revised by a number of other federal agencies in collaboration with NARA through its recently established NDI Executive Steering Group. The formal concept of operations for the NDI will likely be substantially different and the version presented in this report represents nothing more than an initial starting point.

The report contains several recommendations, which are highlighted in the executive summary. The following, details these recommendations as well as NARA's initial response:

  • Conduct an expedited and condensed business process re-engineering effort
    • Established an Executive Steering Group for the NDI consisting of senior program officials from NARA and other federal agencies that will work to seek consensus on priorities, work flow, work plans, and processes for both quality assurance reviews and resolution of referrals
  • Create an ombudsman to foster safeguarding, declassification, and release within NARA
    • NARA has elevated the declassification responsibilities to the SES level and will evaluate in the future if this recommendation should be revisited
  • Enhance training and oversight to mitigate archival, preservation, and security threats
    • Working to develop further and extend the reach of two types of training related to declassification:
      1. Mandatory archival handling and NARA-specific information security awareness training for agency staff working with records at NARA in the declassification process.
      2. Equity recognition training for agency staff
  • Set up a working group to focus on declassification of "special media" and electronic records
    • The Executive Steering Group for the NDI will address this issue and plan the proper approach to this issue
  • Increase the capability of NARA to maintain intellectual and physical control over classified national security information in its custody
    • NARA has initiated a major processing initiative which will improve controls for all classified and unclassified holdings in the Washington, DC area. As part of this initiative NARA has doubled the number of staff members assigned to declassification processing
  • Enhance internal oversight of the implementation of required safeguarding and declassification programs
    • All NARA Program Offices with responsibilities pertaining to information security and the management of classified records are closely collaborating in order to ensure that their efforts are coordinated and improvements are adopted when needed
  • Establish specialized training for records managers and security professionals
    • Working to integrate information security and declassification issues throughout the lifecycle of records in order to leverage efficiencies including utilizing NARA's existing training program
  • Increase oversight of agency records management activities with respect to the unique nature of classified records
    • Working to integrate information security and declassification issues throughout the lifecycle of records in order to leverage efficiencies and improve understanding of process
  • Consideration of a dedicated process for the storage and processing of classified permanent records pending declassification and release
    • Studying details and implications

Read the Report