Today, the Public Interest Declassification Board released online its latest report recommending additional changes to transform the security classification system. This Supplemental Report, Setting Priorities: An Essential Step in Transforming Declassification, focuses on topic-based declassification prioritization. In it, the PIDB makes the case for the government to adopt a centralized approach to topic-based prioritization and recommends specific policy and process changes aimed at improving access to historically significant records most sought-after by the public.
With input from the public, agency classifiers, declassifiers and historians, the recommendations found in this supplemental report are meant to assist the Records Access and Information Security Interagency Policy Committee/Classification Reform Committee (RAIS IPC/CRC) in its work of evaluating the PIDB’s 2012 Report recommendations and developing a government-wide approach to transforming classification.
We concluded that automatic declassification should no longer be the sole policy driving declassification programming across government. We found that this policy no longer supports the President’s policies from Executive Order 13526, “Classified National Security Information,” as intended. In practice, automatic declassification has fueled a risk-averse process limiting quality declassification review, brought about expensive re-reviews, and added unnecessary costs to an overburdened system. As the volume of information continues to increase exponentially in the digital era, topic-based prioritization would ensure declassification review of records of the greatest potential for use by the public, historians, public policy professionals and the national security community itself. It also would more closely align with electronic information management practices designed to ensure discovery and access to relevant information.
We provide six recommendations in support of topic-based prioritization by giving attention to records of greatest public interest. They are:
- Topic-based declassification should be the normal process rather than the exception.
- The National Declassification Center (NDC), in consultation with the public and with agencies, should design and implement a process to solicit, evaluate and prioritize standard topics for declassification government-wide.
- End pass/fail determinations and identify necessary redactions for topic-based reviews.
- The government should require agencies to develop and use new technologies to assist and improve declassification review.
- Agencies and the NDC must improve risk management practices.
- Revisions to the current Executive Order are needed to lessen the burden of automatic declassification on agencies in support of topic-based declassification review.
Our Supplemental Report details the reasons our recommendations and makes the case for these needed changes. The report also includes a list of topics solicited from the stakeholders inside and outside government. This list should provide a suitable starting point for government policymakers to begin designing and implementing a prioritization process. We recognize that change will be difficult, but know the consequences of inaction will be far more negative than will steps made in the overall effort of transformation.