National Archives Issues Progress Report on Declassification Initiatives
Press Release · Wednesday, Mar 5, 2014
Washington, DC…At a meeting with the research community today, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein reported on the National Declassification Initiative (NDI) explaining the objectives, milestones and progress to date for this innovative program. This program was conceived in response to an April 2006 audit report by the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) entitled "Withdrawal of Records from Public Access at the National Archives and Records Administration for Classification Purposes."
The Archivist said, "When we last met in April, I promised that the National Archives would act swiftly and responsibly to begin to address the very serious challenges that we face in coordinating with other Federal agencies in the realm of declassification. The NDI will address the policies, procedures, structure, and resources needed to create a more reliable executive branch-wide declassification program for federal records. Specifically, the program will establish a better means for managing referrals of classified equities between executive branch agencies. In addition to the NDI, the National Archives has an established program for handling the systematic declassification of Presidential records called the Remote Archives Capture Project." The Archivist encouraged all Federal agencies to participate and support in these declassification initiatives.
The new NDI program will reduce redundancies in declassification review, will promote accurate and consistent declassification decisions, will improve equity recognition across the declassification community, develop centralized priorities and management controls around the priorities, and make the declassification process more transparent to the public.
Towards that goal, an interagency executive steering group has been established. At their first meeting, representatives of the 12 executive branch agencies with major declassification responsibilities met to discuss various strategies required to ensure the NDI’s success. In subsequent meetings, the executive steering group will develop and implement detailed work plans designed to ensure that agency equities are referred and resolved to allow the maximum feasible declassification. In addition, the executive steering group will focus on ensuring that common referral standards are developed, redundancies are reduced, and that records are adequately reviewed for declassification so that only information that must be retained for national security purposes is withheld.
The Archivist gave the group a status report on the progress on the audit items. Professor Weinstein stressed that since the ISOO audit report was issued, notwithstanding the ongoing Department of Energy review pursuant to ‘Kyl-Lott Amendment, "The practice of withdrawal of documents from the open shelves has been stopped in its tracks. Today, withdrawals are extremely rare and must demonstrate a compelling case." Only seven new documents have been withdrawn since April 26. All of these withdrawals have been carefully noted in the opened files so that their removal is transparent to researchers and all have been handled in accordance with the audit protocol. One of the documents has been declassified and is now back on the shelf. Agency decisions are still pending on the other items.
As a result of the findings of the ISOO audit, the Archivist requested that agencies do another re-review of the documents withdrawn during the first re-review. This effort is ongoing and the National Archives expects the vast majority of records withdrawn to be restored to public access over the next several months. For example, at the end of their work, the Air Force expects that 95% of their records under re-review will be released in full or redacted. By way of another example, CIA is re-reviewing 55 boxes of State Department records and expects to release in full 85% of their records; release in redacted form 10%; and withhold 5%. Additional collections will likewise be reviewed for return to the open shelves. "We regard this as encouraging news and plan to continue to hold our feet to the fire to ensure that there is no backsliding," added the Archivist. "The NDI will not only streamline the declassification process, but it will also provide a forum for open and frank discussions among agencies to ensure that the process is as transparent as possible."
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