Open the Government, a nonpartisan coalition composed of civil society and government transparency focused organizations published its report, Accountability 2021 in December. The report highlighted several recommendations from the Public Interest Declassification Board’s (PIDB) most recent report to the President, A Vision for the Digital Age: Modernizing the U.S. National Security Classification and Declassification System.
The PIBD was encouraged to see the Accountability 2021 Report include a long-term goal devoted to the promotion of historical preservation. The PIDB has long supported policies and practices to enhance information management at agencies and improve public access to government records at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In the past, PIDB reports advocated for the establishment of historical review boards at agencies, especially those with original classification authority, to aid in the prioritization of the declassification review and public release of historically significant records. Earlier PIDB recommendations included identifying historically significant records as early as possible after their creation to ensure their preservation, availability to agency policymakers and historians, and their long-term preservation. Establishing a system to promote historical preservation will accelerate the use of those records by policy professionals and historians, and create the foundation for documenting the critical actions, activities, and policies of our government.
Open the Government’s Accountability 2021 Report also recommends that NARA and the PIDB work together to prioritize historically significant collections of historical records for declassification review. The report also recommends that the PIDB take an active role in identifying annual targets for declassification. The PIDB first recommended prioritizing the declassification of historically significant records in their 2008 Report, Improving Declassification and again in 2014 in their supplemental report, Setting Priorities: An Essential Step in Transforming Declassification. The PIBD advocated a centralized approach to topic-based prioritization and recommended specific policy and process changes aimed at improving access to historically significant records most sought-after by the public. The PIBD looks forward to engaging with the new administration, the Congress, Executive branch agencies, civil society organizations like Open the Government, and the public on ways to improve declassification processes that allow greater access to information and support government transparency.