PIDB Issues Recommendations to the President on Reforming Classification System

On December 6, the Public Interest Declassification Board submitted its recommendations to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System. The Board created the report in response to the President’s request in Executive Order 13526, for assistance in identifying potential solutions for classification and declassification challenges in the digital age and producing a vision for a new system.

The PIDB is an advisory committee established by Congress to promote public access to a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of significant U.S. national security decisions and activities. The Board made 14 specific recommendations in four broad categories: classification, declassification, technology, and managing historically significant records. The full report can be found at: www.archives.gov/declassification/pidb/recommendations/transforming-classification.html.

The PIDB concluded that the current processes and policies for classifying and declassifying information need to undergo a complete overhaul: “The current system, created seventy years ago, is outdated and incapable of dealing adequately with the large volumes of classified information generated in an era of digital communications and information systems.” The board recommended the secrecy system be streamlined and better aligned with safeguarding practices and less information should be classified overall. They also felt that there needs to be a better balance between what is classified and

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what is available to the American public.

The PIDB called on the president to aggressively take the lead in reforming the classification system: “Overcoming entrenched practices that no longer serve the purpose of protecting our national security will prove difficult. We believe it will require a White House-led steering committee to drive reform, led by a chair that is carefully selected and appointed with specific authorities that you grant.”

Of particular interest to historians is the recommendation concerning the prioritization of the preservation and processing of “historically significant records.” The PIDB suggested that these records “should be identified and set aside as early as possible after their creation to ensure their preservation, long-term access and availability to agency policymakers and historians. Each agency should have an in-house history staff to assist agency records officers and declassifiers in the prioritization of records.”

Through the use of existing technologies, including data

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tagging, the PIDB recommended historically significant records should be prepositioned for review and timely public release. The board felt selection of these records should reflect a reasoned judgment as to what information will be of the most interest to the public or future policymakers. The board stated, “Expedited access to these historical records will aid policymakers in retrieving the documentary records of past policy decisions, lending context to contemporary decision-making while cataloging valuable information for future analysis and public release. Such material not only informs public discussion of historical decisions and policies, but is also intrinsically important in documenting the Government’s national security history.”

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