Most archival records held by NARA are available to the public for research and are either unclassified or declassified.
During your research, you may come across "withdrawal notices" or forms that indicate a record is restricted and not available to the public. The declassification of records is an important part of the archival process. This process provides continuous protection of classified records ensures the accessibility to records of historic value and helps maintain the public trust by providing public accountability.
NARA has several roles concerning declassification and the handling of restricted records. We process, withdraw and store sensitive documents, maintain a classified database, create labels and consults with on-site reviewers from agencies. NARA also processes FOIA requests and the Director of Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) serves as the Executive Secretary of the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP). ISCAP provides further review of classification decisions.
Records may be restricted by statute, Executive Order, or by the agency that transferred the records to NARA. All agency-specified restrictions must comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Even if the records are not national-security classified, some records contain information exempt from release under the FOIA. Presidential records are governed by several laws depending on dates and president.
You can request access under the mandatory declassification review (MDR) process of Executive Order 13526, as amended, or under the FOIA. If your FOIA request is denied by the Inspector General submit a written appeal to the Archivist. All other denials should be sent the Deputy Archivist. If your MDR request is denied your first appeal is sent to the agency. Further appeals can be made to ISCAP.