A Summary of the Public Interest Declassification Board’s Recommendations to the President on how to Modernize the Classification and Declassification System

The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) published its report to the President, A Vision for the Digital Age: Modernization of the U.S. National Security Classification and Declassification System yesterday. This report provides recommendations that can serve as a blueprint for modernizing the classification and declassification system. These recommendations focus on the imperative to adopt new policies that support the way Government works.

We believe there is a critical need to modernize this system to move from the analog to the digital age by deploying advanced technology and by upgrading outdated paper-based policies and practices.

The report first urges that the President designate a cabinet-level Executive Agent (EA) to oversee modernization. We believe this designation will facilitate the policy changes and their implementation. The EA would be responsible for orchestrating interagency coordination and overseeing implementation, including the application of technologies that allow for more effective and efficient classification and declassification.

The PIDB’s Vision of how a future modernized classification and declassification system would work:

  1. Through a “federated enterprise-level, systems-of-systems approach to declassification,” and by
  2. Replacing antiquated but still widely-used paper-based processes with “cutting-edge Information Technology, telecommunications innovation, and systems development.”

In recommending the designation of an EA and an Executive Committee with appropriate authorities to transform the security classification system, the PIDB developed critical strategic policy changes required for implementing its Vision:

  • Organize the national security declassification community into a National Declassification System (NDS), operating as “a system-of-systems enterprise to streamline and modernize classification and declassification policies, processes, and technologies;” and
  • Grant oversight responsibility to the National Declassification Center (NDC) for implementing the NDS system-of-systems approach by working with the Executive Committee and original classification authorities.

Our report emphasizes the critical need for the acquisition and deployment of advanced technologies in classification and declassification processes. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Cloud storage offer effective solutions that will support the rapid growth in digital information. The PIDB Vision stresses the importance of the EA, the NDC, and agencies working with the private sector, highlighting the importance of research and development efforts to aid successful deployment and implementation.

In addition to strategic changes, our report also recommends near-term improvements that could have an immediate impact on reforming and improving the classification and declassification system.  These recommendations include:

  1. Directing the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Secretary of Energy to develop a unified or joint plan to assist the Archivist of the United States in modernizing the systems in use across agencies for the management of classified records, including electronic records;
  2. Deploying technology to support classification and declassification automation;
  3. Implementing secure information technology connectivity between and among all agencies managing classified information, specifically including the National Archives, which manages the NDC and classified records of the Presidential Libraries;
  4. Empowering the NDC to design and implement a process to solicit, evaluate, prioritize and sponsor topics for declassification Government-wide, in consultation with the public and Government agencies;
  5. Developing a new model for accurately measuring national security classification activities across Government, including all costs associated with classification and declassification; and
  6. Simplifying and streamlining the classification system and deciding how to adopt a two-tiered clas­sification system.

For the full report, along with our previous reports to the President, is available on our website.

We invite you to attend a virtual public meeting this Friday, June 5, at 11:00 a.m. You may register to attend here. After registering, participants will receive instructions via email on how to dial into the meeting by telephone and how to submit questions and comments.

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