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Obama Commits to Declassification, Begins Shift in Classification Programs

Public Engagement Impacts Presidential Action

For more information contact:
Meredith Fuchs - 202/994-7000

Washington, DC, January 4, 2010 - On December 28, 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13526 Concerning Classified National Security Information (the "Executive Order") and a Presidential Memorandum setting goals for declassification of historical records, a reduction in the number of original classification authorities, and promoting the use of new technologies in declassification.  In the Memorandum, President Obama states:

I expect that the order will produce measurable progress towards greater openness and transparency in the Government's classification and declassification programs while protecting the Government's legitimate interests, and I will closely monitor the results.

The Memorandum goes on to commit that "a backlog of more than 400 million pages of accessioned Federal records previously subject to automatic declassification shall be addressed in a manner that will permit public access to all declassified records from this backlog no later than December 31, 2013."

"President Obama is heading in the right direction to reduce excessive secrecy," said Meredith Fuchs, the Archive's General Counsel. "The focus on achieving public access to declassified records is directly responsive to the needs of the historical community."

The new Executive Order came about as a result of President Obama's direction to the National Security Advisor on May 27, 2009 requesting recommendations and proposed revisions to Executive Order 12958, as amended. An interagency review process commenced almost immediately.

President Obama did not direct the National Security Council to involve the public in the revision process and the National Security Adviser refused to formally publish a draft of the executive order for public comment in the Federal Register, as had been requested by the National Security Archive and other organizations. Nonetheless, the revision process involved an unprecedented level of public input. Instead of allowing public input on a draft, the National Security Advisor asked the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), an advisory committee established by Congress that is comprised of presidential and congressional appointees, to solicit public input. The PIDB launched a Web based blog discussion that solicited public comments, held a public hearing seeking recommendations, and reported the results to the National Security Advisor.

On September 29, 2009, a leaked draft Executive order was published in Secrecy News that permitted interested advocates and organizations to respond directly to draft provisions that were under consideration by the interagency group engaged in revising the Executive Order.  Representatives of the National Archives and Records Administration, the Information Security Oversight Office, and the National Security Council considered comments submitted by a range of organizations and the resulting Executive Order reflects that input.

"The impact of the public on the final order demonstrates that, even in the national security realm, there is a role for an informed public," commented Fuchs.  "Hearing why specific provisions caused concern for the historical and archival communities allowed the Administration to develop better solutions to protect national security without inhibiting historical research." 

A summary description of some of the key changes is available on our Unredacted Blog and a redline version of the Executive Order is available here.

A blog post by William H. Leary, Special Adviser to the National Security Advisor and Senior Director for Records and Access Management, National Security Staff, is available on the White House blog site. A National Archives and Records Administration Press Release on the establishment of a new National Declassification Center is available here.


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