President Joseph Biden signed the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law on December 27, 2021. Section 1685 of the NDAA includes a requirement that the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) conduct “a study on the feasibility of carrying out a declassification review relating to nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, or ballistic missile tests conducted by the United States in the Marshall Islands, including cleanup activities and waste storage relating to such tests.”
Section 1685(b) provides guidance and instruction on what to include in the study. It requires the PIDB to complete the feasibility study and provide it to the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Energy, and the congressional defense committees by March 27, 2022. The NDAA specifies what the study should include:
- The feasibility of carrying out the declassification review;
- The resources required to carry out the declassification review;
- A timeline to complete the declassification review; and
- Any other issues the Board determines relevant.
Today, in accordance with section 1685(d), PIDB Chair Ezra Cohen formally requested assistance from the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Energy for those two departments to support the feasibility study. The assistance of technical experts and subject matter experts from these two agencies is critical and will enable the PIDB to complete an informed study.
The feasibility study will address the public interest in access to historical government information regarding United States nuclear weapons testing conducted in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958. The mandated cooperation of the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Energy also offers a unique opportunity to assess the scope of challenges to conducting prioritized declassification review across executive branch agencies.