Government declassifies historical docs faster than ever

The National Declassification Center was established in January 2010 to tackle a nearly 400 million-page backlog of historic documents, and it is just starting to hit its stride by picking up the pace of initial evaluations.

Major documents processed and released to the public during the past six months include the Pentagon Papers, released in June, and CIA documents about secret writing techniques dating from World War I, released in April.

The National Declassification Center has nearly doubled the pace of reviews of historic national security documents in the past six months, according to its latest operations report.

The center and its interagency partners performed first reviews for nearly 59 million pages from Jan. 1 to June 30, compared with 60 million pages reviewed in all of 2010, the first year of the center's operation, according to its most recent biannual Report on Operations released July 25.


Related stories:

NARA plans declassification review for 400 million pages

NARA seeks feedback on declassification priorities


“The National Declassification Center epitomizes open government,” said Sheryl Shenberger, the center's director, in a news release. “Working with other agencies to streamline the declassification process, we are expanding the world of access and making more records available for public scrutiny much more quickly.”

The operations report credits streamlined work processes and interagency cooperation for the enhanced productivity. The center also is exploring greater use of digitization, along with search tools that automatically generate metadata and keywords to facilitate search.

However, some problems are ahead for documents classified as Restricted Data/Formerly Restricted Data, the center said.

Nearly half of the remaining records in the backlog need an additional required review, and that number might grow, the report states.

The declassification center, part of the National Archives and Records Administration, was created through a presidential memo signed in December 2009. The center’s goal is to coordinate processing the review and possible public release of classified records dating from 25 years ago or longer that are deemed to have permanent historic value.

The center opened in January 2010 with a backlog of 386 million pages. As of June 30, the center had reduced the backlog to 269 million pages, which is about a 30 percent reduction, the report states.

The center established an IT working group to encourage using modern technologies in the evaluations. Although the group’s recommendations have not substantially affected operations to date, it is expected that IT will be used more in the future, the report states.

Other actions taken to hasten the reviews have included new policies for accurate production statistics, improved processing of special media and electronic records, and new work processes and digitization of documents for requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

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