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.
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.