The Boston Globe published an article yesterday titled, “U.S. lags in airing its old secrets.” It discusses the challenges facing the National Declassification Center (NDC) and the effect current declassification policies and practices have on providing timely access to historical records at the National Archives and Records Administration. In the article, journalist Bryan Bender quotes PIDB Chair, Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, as she offers insight into the challenges facing the system: “The current system is simply not capable of addressing the vast volume of information… It requires agencies to be willing to take a small additional risk for much more benefit.” The PIDB made several recommendations to improve declassification policies and processes in its 2012 Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System. The PIDB recommended new policies that, if adopted, will facilitate greater public access records that are historically relevant and significant and do it sooner. Current declassification review policies are ill-suited for the looming challenges of Big Data. Among other recommendations, the PIDB wrote of the need for new policies that allow for risk-based reviews and the use of technology to make declassification more efficient and effective. The article discusses other obstacles the NDC faces while trying to provide public access to the records, including the divergent quality of reviews, the previously poor treatment many records received from agencies and the frequent assertion by agencies that whole categories of records cannot be released to the public using the NDC’s sampling process, which mitigates risk to increase the release rate of records by the agencies. Despite these challenges, the PIDB believes the NDC remains committed to working with agencies to push for greater reforms and modernization. However, it must adopt new policies and have sufficient resources and tools – including technology – to fulfill its mission in the digital age. The PIDB believes greater reform is needed to modernize a 70-year old system into one that is capable of handling petabytes of government information.
For more insight into the challenges facing the NDC and the larger declassification system, you can read the Boston Globe article here.