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NDC Declassification Process – Overview

by on April 4, 2011


Hello NDC blog readers. In recent weeks there have have been  several discussions with people in the declassification world and the general public about the declassification process and how it has changed since the NDC was established. We at the NDC are working to make our process as transparent as possible to help people understand how we perform declassification. To fully understand describe the NDC process improvements it will be necessary to include some insight into the old process for comparison. I do not want to create the first novel length blog post, so this will be the first in a series of posts in which I will breakdown and describe the declassification process here at the NDC. This information will also be consolidated and posted on the NDC website (http://www.archives.gov/declassification/).

Roughly a year before the NDC was established by Executive Order 13526, in January 2010, the National Archives started developing a concept of operations and having open discussions with agencies on how to stand up the NDC. During these interagency discussions, our friends at DOD suggested a more detailed analysis of our processes and offered the assistance of the DOD Lean Six Sigma (LSS) program to assist. This turned out to be a vital contribution to the process. Led by a LSS Master Black Belt, NARA held a series of interagency meetings focused on improving a declassification process that was inefficient, full of multiple quality review checks and duplication of work, and ultimately would not allow us to meet the President’s goal of eliminating a 408 million page backlog. After eight months of collaboration, analysis, brainstorming, and yes some heated discussions, the team submitted recommendations to our senior agency officials for review. The result was a streamlined process that the NDC management implemented in stages during the summer and fall of 2010. The included diagram outlines the current process at a high level. Changes to the process included a risk management approach, a streamlined quality check process, a streamlined indexing/withdrawal process, and improved release procedures.

NDC Process – High Level Overview - Blog Post 4-2011

The biggest interagency piece to the new process was an agreement to put in place a risk management approach as requested by the President. To implement this approach we created an interagency “Evaluation” step that sorts records into high or low risk categories, allowing records that are low risk to skip a more detailed quality check and move to the end of the process. This will be the topic of my next post.


Comments

Philip Bienvenue April 4, 2011 at 9:32 am

I have a specific question. Does anyone know if Records Group 472 (Vietman War) still has any classified material. I am looking for documents from the 5th Infantry Division. (1st Brigade) especially Operation Lam Son 719 CAAR (Combat After Action Report). I am missing the sketch map at the end of the report.

Regards,

Alan Thompsoon April 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm

A great blog and congratulations for developing a new and greatly improved way to get all these records declassified and released in a more timely fashion. Especially pleased with your success in getting the agencies more closely involved at every stage. As the creator and first director of the Declassification Division, I empathize with you and all of your mates as you face the never ending problems–not least of which is the constant need for more resources.
Best wishes.
Alan

Eric Holzer June 3, 2011 at 11:01 am

I found the discussion of the process overview to be very interesting. For the sake of brevity, I suspect certain aspects of the process were a bit over simplified. It would be nice for certian terms to be defined. For example, with “risk management” – what is the risk? Is the risk defined as the eroneous release of classified information or the failure to declassify documents that no longer contain classified information. What are the perceived chances of one or both of these things occurring? Is there an acceptable error rate when dealing with hundreds of millions of pages? What are the consequences if errors happen?

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