Public Interest Declassification Board Issues Initial Report to the President

The Public Interest Declassification Board has released its first report to the President providing recommendations for improving the Federal government’s declassification system. The Board examined 15 issues and made 49 separate recommendations to improve the current declassification system.

Among other issues, the Board recommended a more comprehensive approach to declassification within the Federal government to include the establishment of a National Declassification Center. It called for prioritizing the government’s declassification efforts to ensure a greater focus on “historically significant” records, especially presidential records, with greater involvement of historians and historical advisory panels in setting these priorities.

The Board brought particular attention to the challenges faced in dealing with records not normally made available to the public, such as the President’s Daily Brief (an intelligence summary prepared each day for the President), as well as classified records created by committees of Congress, particularly classified reports and closed hearing transcripts.

Finally, the Board noted that the current declassification system is ill equipped to deal with the challenges of tomorrow.

The Public Interest Declassification Board is an advisory committee established by Congress in order to promote the fullest possible public access to the documentary record of significant U.S. national security decisions and activities. Created in 2000 (Public Law 106-567), Congress appropriated funds for the Board’s operations in late 2005, allowing it to meet for the first time in February 2006.

The Board is composed of nine individuals, five appointed by the President and four by the Congressional leadership. The President appointed L. Britt Snider (former Chair) Martin Faga (acting Chair), Steven Garfinkel, Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, and Ronald Radosh. The Minority Leader of the House appointed David Skaggs (Vice Chair) and the Majority Leader of the Senate appointed Joan Vail Grimson. The Speaker of the House appointed Admiral William O. Studeman, USN (Ret.). One Congressional appointment remains pending.

The life of the Board has been extended until 2012. Future plans include addressing other aspects of the classification and declassification process, such as the review of classified information contained in electronic records and monitoring the actions taken to address the issues identified in its first report.

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