PIDB Congratulates John W. Ficklin for his Years of Public Service

The Members of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) congratulate Mr. John W. Ficklin on his January 2016 retirement from government service, completing his forty-three year tenure at the White House as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Records and Access Management at the National Security Council. In his capacity as Senior Director, Mr. Ficklin was responsible for declassification of White House records as well as other information and records management duties. He remained a keen partner of the PIDB in its undertaking to promote public access to an accurate and thorough documentation of significant national security decisions and activities.

Mr. William Leary, Acting Chair of the PIDB and previous Senior Director for Records and Access Management, credits Mr. Ficklin, in 1984, with initially transforming the mainly paper-based White House records management infrastructure to a restructured electronic / digital system of information governance. Of his many accomplishments during his tenure, Mr. Flicklin has overseen the release of over 2,500 previously classified President Daily Briefs from the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Mr. Ficklin chaired the Interagency Security Classification Panel (ISCAP), as well as supported the establishment of the National Declassification Center (NDC) and the processing of its 360 million page backlog of records.

More recently, Mr. Ficklin dedicated much of his efforts to the President’s transparency and open government initiatives, including the advancement of two key commitments in the Open Government National Action Plans, transforming the security classification system and streamlining declassification. He chaired the interagency Classification Reform Committee (CRC), a White House-led Steering Committee dedicated to advancing modernization efforts for classification and declassification. Among its many accomplishments was to initiate the successful piloting by the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Archives of technological tools to automate decision-support in declassification review. The CRC continues to meet under the direction of Mr. John P. Fitzpatrick, former Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO). Mr. Fitzpatrick assumed Mr. Ficklin’s previous role as Senior Director for Records and Access Management at the NSC.

Mr. Ficklin’s distinguished career, as well as his family’s historic service at the White House, were the subjects of a moving article in last Sunday’s Washington Post. You can read the article here.

The PIDB thanks Mr. Ficklin for his service to the country and its citizens. The members are grateful for the many years of cooperation they have had working with Mr. Ficklin and wish him a rewarding and well-deserved retirement.

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Sheryl Shenberger, Director of the NDC, Named Meritorious Executive Presidential Rank Award Recipient

The PIDB congratulates Ms. Sheryl Shenberger on being selected as a FY 2015 Meritorious Executive Presidential Rank Award recipient.

We understand the Presidential Rank Award Program honors high-performing career senior executives for “sustained extraordinary accomplishment.” The news of Ms. Shenberger being selected for the award was unsurprising to us. We have seen firsthand her dedication and hard work during her tenure as the Director of the National Declassification Center (NDC), establishing and expanding its capabilities since her appointment in 2010. In particular, we applaud her diligence in building relationships between the NDC, Executive Branch agencies and the public. Ms. Shenberger’s determination ultimately led to the retirement of the 361 million page backlog of records at the National Archives, an incredible task that she and her colleagues accomplished by the deadline imposed by the President. Bravo!

Ms. Shenberger’s dedication to the national security mission has led to a more open and transparent government, helping to change the classification culture in the Executive Branch for the betterment of our citizens. On behalf of the Board and its emeritus members, we congratulate Ms. Shenberger for this richly deserved recognition.


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Third Open Government National Action Plan Published

Yesterday, the President issued the Third Open Government National Action Plan (NAP 3.0) as part of the Open Government Partnership, a cornerstone of his administration.  Included in the NAP 3.0 are new and extended commitments under the specific initiative, “Streamline the Declassification Process.”  Under this initiative, the President pledges to identify processes and tools to help automate and streamline declassification.  He also reiterates his position that “while national security requires that certain information be protected as classified, democratic principles require government to be transparent, wherever possible, about its activities.”

The four commitments specifically outlined in the NAP 3.0 are goals that will combat the “time-consuming and costly process often involves manual review of records.”  The administration will:

  • develop a plan to implement technological tools to help automate declassification review,
  • pilot the use of a topic-based inter-agency declassification guide,
  • establish a special systematic declassification review program and
  • declassify historical intelligence records in the public interest.

Of particular interest to the PIDB is the first commitment, which concerns the implementation of technology the Central Intelligence Agency and National Archives developed in response to the NAP 2.0.  These pilot projects yielded real results through the development of a technological capability to assist decision-making in declassification.  The members are proud these efforts steamed from a recommendation made in our 2012 report on Transforming the Security Classification System and continue to support these efforts.  The June 25, 2015 public meeting of the PIDB was an opportunity to showcase these pilot efforts and call for the implementation of these proven concepts.

When the President tasked the PIDB with studying the security classification system and recommending changes for transformation, he sought to modernize and reform the system to one that will function in today’s digital information sharing environment and in the future.  The members share the President’s vision of a security classification system that limits secrecy and promotes transparency throughout government.

Again, the PIDB congratulates the President and stands ready to support the Classification Reform Committee in its work to meet the commitments of the NAP 3.0.

You can view and print a copy of the Third Open Government National Action Plan here:

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Historical Presidential Daily Briefs Declassified

Yesterday at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, the Director of National Intelligence, General James Clapper, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), John Brennan, announced the declassification of over 2,500 historical Presidential Daily Briefs (PDB) dated from 1961 through 1969.

We, the members of the PIDB, congratulate the Intelligence Community, the Department of State, and the CIA in particular for completion of this historic project.  Historians and scholars have long sought access to these important records.  Previously locked in security vaults and unavailable to the public, these newly declassified records will prove a treasure trove to sift through and study.  Covering its first use in the Kennedy administration to the last day of the Johnson administration, the “PDB” was used by the CIA to inform and provide the President and his most senior staff with sensitive intelligence information.  With the declassification of over 19,000 pages in this release, historians will now gain new insight into Presidential decision-making and the intelligence assessments used to make decisions during these administrations.

We first recommended that the PDB be subject to declassification in our 2008 report, “Improving Declassification.”  Up until then, the CIA viewed the PDB as inherently privileged and not subject to declassification or review for public access.  We followed up with this recommendation after President Obama asked us to make recommendations on replacing Executive order 12958, as amended.  We were pleased that he included language in Executive order 13526 that allowed for the declassification review of the PDB.

The CIA led this special review project – over two years of painstaking and labor-intensive “line-by-line” review work.  But, the results are impressive – over 19,000 pages declassified with 80% of the information released to the public.  This project solidifies our recommendations in our Report to the President on “Transforming the Security Classification System.”  It is our view that topical or subject area declassification and a line-by-line declassification review is both possible and beneficial.  This project proves that it can be done – to the great benefit for our democracy.   In an age where information is being created electronically and, therefore, exponentially, the Government must target and prioritize its declassification efforts to focus on reviewing its most important records first – and do so in automated and line-by-line ways that allow our history to be told – “with the bark off” as President Johnson once said.

Congratulations to the professional declassifiers at the CIA, and across Government for your outstanding work!  We are looking forward to 2016 and the next PDB declassification installment from the Nixon and Ford administrations.

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Help Strengthen Open Government

The PIDB encourages you to participate in the planning of the Third Open Government National Action Plan (NAP 3.0).  

The Second Open Government National Action Plan included recommendations the PIDB made in its 2012 Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System.  These recommendations established the Security Classification Reform Committee, called for the implementation of a process to systematically review and declassify no-longer-sensitive information on nuclear activities, and encouraged the piloting of technological tools to assist declassification and decision-making.  

Still, more work is needed and public participation in drafting the NAP 3.0 is critical to our collective goal of transformation.  There is still time to consider including other recommendations made by the PIDB, including those in its latest Report, Setting Priorities: An Essential Step in Transforming Declassification.  The PIDB, therefore, urges you to participate in this drafting process by learning more about the Open Government Partnership and how you can contribute your ideas and recommendations.

The following post was written by Corinna Zarek, Senior Advisor for Open Government to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  Ms. Zarek outlines how you can be a contributor to US Open Government initiatives:

Since the United States joined the Open Government Partnership in 2011, U.S. agencies have been working alongside civil society to develop and implement commitments to increase transparency, improve participation, and curb corruption. From opening up Federal spending data to make it easier to see how taxpayer dollars are spent, to the We the People online petition site where the public can propose U.S. policy changes, to strengthening efforts to deny safe haven in the U.S. to corrupt individuals, our efforts to advance open government are making an impact.

Consistent with the commitment to the Open Government Partnership, later this year the United States plans to publish a third Open Government National Action Plan (NAP) including new and expanded open government initiatives to pursue in the next two years. The first U.S. NAP was published in 2011 and the second NAP — which is still being implemented through the end of 2015 — was published in 2013.

These plans are a true team effort — governments work alongside civil society in all 65 OGP countries to develop and implement the efforts within the plans. Over the next several months, we encourage you to contribute your ideas and work with us to build an ambitious third NAP!

How can you contribute?

Please share any NAP suggestions with us via email at or tweet us at@OpenGov. You can also contribute ideas to a publicly available Hackpad — an open, collaborative platform — that the General Services Administration is helping coordinate. (You will need to create an account on that site before viewing and contributing to content on that platform.)

You may wish to suggest expanded commitments on topic areas from the first two plans such as public participation, open data, records management, natural resource revenue transparency, the Freedom of Information Act, open innovation, or open educational resources, among others. You may also wish to suggest entirely new initiatives — and we hope you do!

The OGP provides guidance on creating NAPs and directs that commitments should be:

  • Ambitious: pushing government beyond current practice by strengthening transparency, accountability, and public participation;
  • Relevant: advancing one of the four open government principles of (1) transparency, (2) accountability, (3) participation, and/or (4) technology and innovation;
  • Specific: describing the problem to be solved and expected outcomes; and
  • Measurable: allowing independent observers to gauge whether the commitment has been completed.

As you suggest possible initiatives for the next NAP to help ensure the United States pursues bold, ambitious efforts, please tell us how those suggestions would achieve these criteria.

We look forward to working together as we update our roadmap for open government in the United States. Join us!

Corinna Zarek is the Senior Advisor for Open Government to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer in the Office of Science and Technology Policy

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What We Heard and Learned at our June 25th Public Meeting

The June 25th meeting of the Public Interest Declassification Board was an opportunity for the PIDB members to meet with stakeholders who share a commitment to bringing about transformation to the security classification system. In particular, this meeting was an opportunity for the PIDB to continue advocating for the increased use of new and existing technologies to improve declassification.

The PIDB members recommended in our 2012 Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System improving technology investments overall and piloting the use of technological solutions to advance automation and advanced analytics to assist declassifiers in making review decisions. Following the inclusion of these recommendations in the President’s Second Open Government Action Plan (NAP), the PIDB is now focusing its work on studying the current state of technological investments in declassification across government.

In this effort, the PIDB announced at the public meeting the creation of its Declassification Technology Working Group. Chaired by former PIDB member Admiral William Studeman (ret.), this newly established working group consists of agency technologists who will work together for the first time to identify areas of concern and find and advance solutions to the challenges specifically facing declassification.

The public meeting was also an opportunity to showcase many of the achievements and plans underway concerning technology commitments found in the NAP. We were fortunate to have Deputy Chief Technology Officer of the United States, Alexander Macgillivray, give remarks about the President’s desire for more technology and expertise in government as a vehicle for the Administration’s commitment to open government. Using the launch of as an example, he stressed the need for information technology expertise in implementing policy. He outlined three areas of focus for the Administration: improving policy implementation, bringing more technology understanding into government and using technology to change the engagement between citizens and the government. His remarks also included examples of specific initiatives being driven at the White House to advance these areas: engaging agency Chief Information Officers through the Office of the CIO of the United States to solve cross-government technology challenges, raising the standard of technology products and services within government through the work of the U.S. Digital Service and improving government processes by reaching out to citizens in industry, academia and the nonprofit section through the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. We wish, once again, to thank him for joining us and participating in our discussion.

We also wish to thank Dr. Cheryl Martin for presenting the results of the pilot projects conducted at the Center for Content Understanding at the Applied Research Laboratories that examined the ability to achieve machine-assisted sensitive content identification in classified records. Dr. Martin and her team of scientists and engineers conducted these pilots on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Archives. Notably, the pilot achieved dramatically accurate identification of classified information in email records created during the Reagan Administration, which has significant promise of being able to assist equity identification of content containing agency-owned classified information. The PIDB has been a proponent of the CCU’s work in this area for some time. It continues to believe these pilot projects need to advance and expand into new areas of research and that positive outcomes derived from these pilots need to be implemented into current practices at agencies once proven. Dr. Martin’s briefing is available online here and her slide presentation is available for viewing here.

We wish to thank the Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, and his staff for hosting the meeting at the National Archives and Records Administration. We also thank the Archivist for discussing in his remarks the many ways he is committed to leading the National Archives in terms of technology. His desire to improve access to government information and his support of our efforts to encourage the government in this area are critical to the long-term preservation of our nation’s records.

Moreover, this meeting was an opportunity to recognize the changing membership of the PIDB and to welcome publicly the two newest members of the PIDB, Laura DeBonis and Solomon Watson. Each gave introductory remarks and each received a signed commission certificate from the President in honor of their respective appointments.

Since the last public meeting, three PIDB members concluded their third and final terms as members: Martin Faga, David Skaggs and Adm. William Studeman (ret.). With the assistance of the Archivist, the PIDB members presented Mr. Faga, Mr. Skaggs and Adm. Studeman each with a reproduction of the “Seven Samples of Secret Ink” report. The report is dated October 30, 1917 and it was classified “Confidential” for many years. It details descriptions of various “secret writing” techniques. In April 19, 2011, the CIA declassified this information and made it public. This report was thought to be the oldest classified record held by the government as it was created in 1917. The members hoped these reproductions would serve as reminders of their time as members of the PIDB and that they would convey thanks and appreciation for their dedicated service.

Finally, we would like to thank you, the public, for attending this meeting and for remaining engaged on this very important topic. The members of the PIDB take our responsibility of representing the public very seriously as we complete their work and respond to the requests made by the President. We understand we would be unable to effect meaningful change without public participation and a willing spirit from the agencies to work collaboratively for the greater good of the people. We look forward to continuing the conversation on all issues concerning the transformation of the security classification system, including advancing technological solutions in support of declassification, and assisting the President in meeting his Open Government commitments.

A recording of the public meeting will be available online: (PIDB meeting transcript 06.25.2015)


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Deputy Chief Technology Officer of the United States, Alex Macgillivray, confirmed to give remarks at the PIDB’s Public Meeting

The PIDB is pleased to announce that Deputy Chief Technology Officer of the United States, Mr. Alex Macgillivray, will participate in the June 25th public meeting of the PIDB.  (Click here to RSVP to the public meeting.)

The President appointed Mr. Macgillivray in September 2014 to the position of U.S. Deputy CTO and in his role he focuses daily on a variety of key priority areas for the Administration, including Internet policy, intellectual property policy, and the intersection of big data, technology and privacy.

Mr. Macgillivray will discuss his thoughts on leveraging technology and talent in government to assist records management, data management and declassification.  He will offer commentary on the U.S. Digital Service, the National Action Plan, the Technology Policy Task Force and possibly other White House initiatives that focus on expanding access to government information through the use of technology.

Mr. Macgillivray holds a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a JD from Harvard Law School.  He is an internationally recognized expert in technology law and policy, most recently serving as General Counsel and Head of Public Policy at Twitter from 2009–2013.  Before joining Twitter, Mr. Macgillivray was for six years deputy general counsel at Google.  He is an actively practicing developer and coder, contributing to his ability to formulate creative and sensible technology policy and understand its ramifications.*

To RSVP to the PIDB’s June 25th public meeting, please visit Eventbrite and register to attend.

*Cited in White House Press release, dated September 4, 2014.

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Save-the-Date: Public Meeting of the Public Interest Declassification Board

The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) will host a public meeting to discuss the recommendations included in its Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System, and its recommendation to employ existing technologies and develop and pilot new methods to modernize classification and declassification.

The meeting will include a discussion of the technology study the PIDB is conducting in collaboration with Executive Branch agencies.  There will be a briefing on the results of technology pilot projects completed at the Center for Content Understanding at the Applied Research Laboratories (UT: Austin), co-sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Archives.  In his Second Open Government National Action Plan, the President directed the CIA and the National Archives to pilot new tools to provide classification reviewers with search capability for unstructured data and automate initial document analysis, beginning with the Presidential Records from the Reagan Administration’s classified email system.

The Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero will offer opening remarks, a senior official from the White House will give comments on Open Government Initiatives and a research scientist from the Center for Content Understanding will provide a briefing on the pilot projects.

WHEN: Thursday, June 25, 2015, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

WHERE:  National Archives and Records Administration
Room 105 – Archivist’s Reception Room
700 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20408

This meeting is open to the public. However, due to space limitations and access procedures, we require individuals planning to attend the meeting to register on Eventbrite. Please note that one form of Government-issued photo identification (e.g. driver’s license) is required to gain admittance.

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NSA Declassifies and Releases the Friedman Collection

We welcome guest blogger, Dr. Dave Sherman, Associate Director for Policy and Records at the National Security Agency, who describes below details about NSA’s recent accomplishment: the declassification review and release of records in the Friedman Collection.

During the past two weeks I’ve had the privilege of participating in a series of events marking the National Security Agency’s declassification and public release of the official papers of an individual who, were I asked to name a single person as the founder of that agency, deserves the title more than anyone else:  William Friedman.

On Monday, April 20, 2015, NSA released over 50,000 pages (or 7,000 records) of Friedman’s official papers to the public.  These newly declassified records are now available at the National Archives and Records Administration.   NSA also posted digital copies of the entire collection to its website and provided electronic copies to NARA and to the Marshall Foundation, which holds Friedman’s personal papers.  On Thursday, April 23, 2015, the Foundation hosted a symposium marking the public release and featuring speakers from both government and academia.   It also opened an excellent exhibit on the life and work of William Friedman and his wife Elizebeth – a renowned codebreaker in her own right – with numerous photographs, papers, and artifacts from its collections.   Five days later, the National Cryptologic Museum, located on NSA’s Fort Meade campus, cut the ribbon on its own exhibit honoring the Friedmans.

Friedman served in almost every one of the signals intelligence agencies which preceded NSA and at NSA itself.  He is remembered to have brought the discipline of a scientist to the making and breaking of codes and ciphers, or cryptology, a field previously left mostly to inspired amateurs and some less than noble dilettantes.   After the first U.S. codebreaking organization, the American Black Chamber, was shut down in the 1920s, Friedman carried on as the Army’s lone cryptologist.  Then, in the early 1930s, he founded the Signals Intelligence Service…with an initial staff, including Friedman himself, of six!  The SIS grew slowly throughout the 1930s, but its small size did not keep it from achieving one of the most significant feats in the history of cryptanalysis:  the breaking of Japan’s “Purple” cipher, which that nation used to protect its most sensitive diplomatic communications.  But Friedman and his team were not just codebreakers.  They also were code makers,  devising an encryption machine – SIGABA – which, unlike the German Enigma or the Japanese Purple systems, protected Allied communications through World War II and beyond without ever having been cracked…at least not that we know of.

It took NSA almost two years of work to get to the point where we were ready to publicly release the Friedman papers.  Here’s what I’ve learned in the process.

First, the declassification and public release process looks easier than it is.  What could be simpler than getting out a few thousand pages of records from (mainly) the 1950s and 1960s, right?  I would be the first to agree that the government, and especially NSA, needs to get more historically significant information into the public domain more quickly, and in a more complete and comprehensive form.  On the other hand – and I can understand why the historical community would have difficulty believing this – there remains some information that must remain secret to protect certain intelligence sources and methods still active and relevant today, even for example from the early Cold War period.  Just enough, in fact, that for a collection covering the wide range of topics which the Friedman collection encompasses we had to review much of it page-by-page to ensure we inadvertently did not endanger such activities.   But – and this is my first lesson – what we must not do is allow the complexity of the task to deter us from undertaking it.  As Public Interest Declassification Board member Bill Leary observed at the National Declassification Center’s recent public forum, declassification projects which are the most challenging to undertake are also likely to be the most historically relevant.  They should be at the top of our to-do list, and we also need to find new ways to do them quickly and comprehensively.

The second thing I’ve learned is that there is no single approach that will succeed for every declassification effort.   For the Friedman project, for example, we made a decision early that in addition to making the paper originals available at NARA we also would release the entire collection in digital form.  We did this to ensure the broadest public access to the records.  Other efforts have taken this route as well, including a smaller NSA release on Vietnam POWs and MIAs last year.  However, it remains to be seen whether our process would prove feasible for projects with millions of pages.  We also decided to conduct a line-by-line declassification review of the records, redacting still secret information when required.  More time-consuming than a simple “pass-fail” declassification review, our objective was to tell as complete a story as possible without compromising national security or fostering historical misinterpretation.  As a result, roughly 85% of the Friedman collection was released in full.  Understandably – and reasonably, in my view – we’ve been criticized a bit for our redactions, on the grounds that any excisions from a record increase the likelihood of its significance being misinterpreted.  That criticism is not unfair.  It also, at a minimum, reminds us in government to wield the redaction knife – or, as it was more colorfully described to me recently, meat cleaver – with care.  We strove to minimize the redactions on this project.  However, this approach may not be suitable for other projects.  And those of us who resort to it would be well advised to institute checks against the risk of our enabling historical misinterpretation, inadvertently or otherwise.

Finally, I’ve come to an even greater appreciation than before that declassification is a team sport and partnerships – both within the government and between the government and the public – are critical to success.   The more obvious reason for this is that, with the increasing integration of the Intelligence Community over time, many of our records contain classified information which falls under the jurisdiction of multiple agencies.  That is absolutely necessary as a matter of analytic tradecraft in order to provide the policymaker or military commander with the most comprehensive and authoritative intelligence possible.   To be effective, then, declassification will require increasing use of cross-agency teams, both at the National Declassification Center and elsewhere.  But partnerships with public institutions and individual researchers are equally important.  This is not just because, in the final analysis, the government’s records are the public’s records.   Public institutions and individuals also provide essential steerage in helping those of us in government identify records of highest interest.  They also hold their own records collections, ones which – as we have seen in the case of the Friedman release – when augmented by government materials create a full and complete documentary record ripe for historical interpretation and public understanding.  And, finally, the public, academia, and the advocacy community can and must hold us in government accountable to ensure the soundness of our declassification processes and their outcomes.

Those of us at NSA who have been involved in the public release of the Friedman collection are proud of the results.  But we are even more gratified to have learned what we have along the way.  We realize that there is much more left to do.  We also know that there is always more we can and will learn about how to make our records available to the public in ways that do not harm our nation’s security but do increase public understanding and accountability, something which is now more than ever critical to sustaining an intelligence service in a democratic society.


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NDC Outlines Prioritization Plan

On Friday, April 10, 2015, the National Declassification Center held a public forum, NDC Prioritization: What Secrets Do People Want to See? to discuss prioritization of its holdings as a way forward since the completion of the 351 million page backlog in February 2014.

The public forum featured remarks from the Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, and commentary from the Director of the NDC, Sheryl Shenberger.  In her remarks, Ms. Shenberger outlined the five goals of the NDC moving forward (in no particular order):

  1. Making sure another backlog of records awaiting declassification review never accumulates at the National Archives again,
  2. Increasing public access to previously reviewed and exempted records by focusing on document-level referral review at the Interagency Referral Center,
  3. Standing up a review process for the earliest withdrawn items, particularly those withdrawn before the NDC began using a computerized data capture system in 2002,
  4. Fostering an improved and more direct relationship with researchers at the National Archives and
  5. Continuing to prioritize series of records based on researcher/government requests, the significance of the historical topic and the quality of the earlier review to provide special historical themed collections.

David Langbart, Senior Archivist, provided his thoughts on topic-based prioritization as it relates to archival processing and description.  Supervisory Archivist Martha Murphy was also a presenter, discussing how the National Archives is currently processing the remaining withheld records related to the JFK Assassination.  You can view more information about the work of the National Archives and the processing of the JFK assassination records here.

PIDB member and Acting Chair, William Leary, participated as a member of a panel discussing prioritization for declassification.  In his remarks, Mr. Leary discussed the six recommendations made by the PIDB in its 2014 supplemental report, Setting Priorities: An Essential Step in Transforming Declassification.  In this report, the PIDB advocates for a coordinated, government-wide approach to declassifying information based on those records most sought after and of most historical significance to the public.  To this end, Mr. Leary discussed the need for experts in the declassification community and requester community to work cooperatively to determine how to set priorities, acknowledging that useful models exist already, including that which drives the review of records for inclusion in the Foreign Relations of the United States series (FRUS).  He noted that ending pass/fail declassification determinations, which inevitably lead to wasteful re-reviews of records, should be a part of the adopted model for prioritization.

Mr. Leary discussed the need for improved records and information management practices.  He successfully argued that the NDC has the ability to incorporate topical declassification without compromising archival principles, including those related to provenance and the idea of original order.  Indeed, selecting topics by series as priorities is feasible, practical and in concert with archival processing.  Mr. Leary noted that this is one way, among many ways, to improve public access to high-value records, noting that agencies will need to use better risk management strategies and eliminate or severely restrict review of specific records found to have little value.  He also discussed the importance of prioritizing Presidential records as these are arguably the most complete and accurate source of information about our nation’s history and role in the world.

Mr. Leary’s remarks during the forum reflect the PIDB’s shift in focus from the quantity of records reviewed to the quality of records declassified.  Moreover, the challenges posed by electronic records and the volume of information the government now creates mean that changes in declassification processes, from a variety of standpoints, are necessary to effectively transform the system to one that is sustainable in the digital age.

To view the entire NDC public forum online, please visit  (best viewed via Chrome browser).

The panel discussion featuring Mr. Leary begins at 32:00, and Mr. Leary’s specific remarks begin at 1:17:00.

For more information about the NDC public forum and comments from the Director of the NDC, please visit the NDC blog.

Please continue to follow our blog, Transforming Classification, to learn more about the PIDB’s recommendations concerning prioritization.

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