Forward Progress: Congress Requires DOD to Develop Machine Readable DD-214 Military Service Records by December 31, 2023

By requiring the Secretary of Defense to implement machine readable and electronically transferable DD-214s (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) by December 31, 2023, the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020) National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) supports digital transformation as recommended by the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB).

The PIDB continues to recommend digital transformation along these lines for improving classification and declassification across the Executive Branch. By doing so, the FY 2020 NDAA is a very small step toward the “government-wide technology investment strategy” that PIDB advocated for in its 2016 Report to the President, The Importance of Technology in Classification and Declassification. If the Department of Defense (DOD) can transform how veterans and their families qualify for benefits by moving from a paper-based process to a digital process, then this use of technology should also be used on other historically important DOD records. This effort should serve as a springboard for developing and implementing technology for managing classified information and declassification review throughout the DOD and other Federal agencies, as recommended by PIDB’s 2014 Report to the President, Setting Priorities: An Essential Step in Transforming Declassification.

To support making the DD-214 machine readable and electronically transferable, the FY 2020 NDAA specifies that the Secretary of Defense must report to Congress:

1) The DOD information systems that still require manual entry of information from DD-214 forms;

2) The DOD activities that require veterans and former Armed Forces members to provide a physical copy of their DD-214 form;

3) The order of priority for modernizing the items in paragraphs (1) and (2); and

4) The estimated cost of automating the items identified under paragraphs (1) and (2).

Due in late May 2020, this report by the Secretary of Defense to Congress has the potential to contribute information useful for transforming information management across the DOD as required by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the Memorandum on Transition To Electronic Records (OMB/NARA M-19-21). With the appropriate leadership and interest by the Secretary of Defense, the required report to Congress has the potential to serve as a model for modernizing information management and citizen access to Government information at other Executive Branch agencies.

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