Historical Advisory Committee Reports Progress from DOD and State Initiatives

The State Department’s Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) met virtually on March 1st to review progress on the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) publication series. The Department of Defense (DOD) provided a briefing on its declassification review support to the FRUS program, while the Department of State provided a briefing on his automatic declassification review program and its plan to modernize records management policies and practices..

Both the HAC Chair and the Historian’s Office staff commended DOD for its efforts during the pandemic. In response, DOD’s declassification program manager highlighted the positive effect of its realignment and role in FRUS declassification review. Despite the ongoing national health crisis, DOD stated it prioritized the declassification review of FRUS records and reported significant progress in supporting FRUS over the past eight months. DOD completed declassification review of over 4,000 pages, 76% of which were declassified in their entirety while the remaining 24% were declassified in part. This effort allowed the department to close out 82% of its FRUS backlog. In addition, DOD completed the review of 39 records from the North Africa and China volumes that the Historian’s Office had appealed DoD’s initial declassification denials. At the end of the briefing, the HAC Chair expressed his “delight” in DOD’s work over the past eight months, noting “the stark contrast of the progress made by DOD compared to the dark period of the past several years.” The PIDB commends DOD for prioritizing the review of these FRUS records. This work aligns with the PIDB’s recommendations for agencies to prioritize historically significant records and review them on a word-for-word basis.

Next, the State Department’s Director of the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS), and the department’s Records Manager, reported on progress transitioning its electronic records systems to meet Federal Electronic Records Management Initiative requirements. They also detailed the department’s progress toward revising its  records disposition schedules to align with requirements in the joint memorandum from the Office of Management and Budget and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), M-19-21. They explained that the State Department received approval from NARA for a third of all proposed records schedules. In addition, IPS is developing policies to manage all records electronically, including the retention of email records. IPS concluded its presentation by noting that it is exploring data application techniques to enhance electronic records management and information access. IPS indicted its concern that the growth of electronic data will outpace their current ability to conduct declassification review. So IPS was researching the use of advanced technologies, like Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), to facilitate search and access reviews.  These efforts align with the PIDB’s recommendations to modernize information management policies and practices that support the use of advanced technologies to improve public access.  

Further, the State Department reported that the pandemic and limited on-site staff access has affected their Mandatory Declassification Review program. Despite the challenges, they were able to complete 388 MDR requests and reduced the MDR backlog by 16.2% in 2020. Finally, the Department is in the early stages of developing and testing a new electronic review system for the N and P microfilm reels at the National Declassification Center. The program is currently on hold due to facility closures and will resume when conditions permit. 

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