On Friday, 9 March, I was joined by Director/ISOO John Fitzpatrick and Agency Services Executive Jay Bosanko in a meeting with representatives from OMB and several public interest groups. Although we all discussed several items of interest related to reducing classification and expanding governmental transparency, the majority of our discussion was a give-and-take focused on the NDC and the status of the nearly 400M pages of backlog records addressed in the Presidential Memorandum that accompanied EO 13526 in late December 2009. In measuring progress against the 31 December 2013 deadline, I emphasized (quite enthusiastically) that all the backlog records would be assessed, and that many would be deemed ready for final archival processing (that is, segregation of the small portion of still classified (exempted) records from the declassified) in order to provide the declassified/unclassified records to the public.
However, I stressed the concern I described in the January 2012 NDC Report: that approximately 161 million pages have potential Restricted Data/Formerly Restricted Data (RD/FRD) sensitivities, either requiring documentation of a previously conducted review in accordance with Kyl-Lott, a certification of highly unlikely to contain RD/FRD, or the page-level review required to identify RD/FRD. This page-level review requirement should have been done previously by the primary reviewing agency, but either was not done or was done inconsistently. The group agreed that this unforeseen high number of problem pages will certainly affect the ability of the NDC to meet with complete success with backlog retirement.
Regardless of this challenge, the NDC is meeting with success. Here are several high points to NDC progress:
In just over two years of operations, the NDC has assessed 329 million pages of the 384-million-page backlog and completed referral quality assurance for more than 40% of the backlog. NDC has completely processed 34.4 million pages of previously classified records and released to the public 29 million of those pages for an 84% release rate.
The NDC developed and then fine tuned numerous processes to facilitate increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of our internal declassification processing and in support of the retirement of the backlog, all in keeping with the center motto of “Releasing All We Can, Protecting What We Must.” In the final processing step, for example, NDC’s streamlined processes and data capture efforts have had dramatic results: pre-NDC stand up, less than 300,000 pages were being finalized each month; today, nearly four million pages are being finalized monthly.
The NDC is having corresponding success in MDR and FOIA case handling, doubling the 2010 case closure rate in 2011. There are early indicators that 2012 could nearly double the increased 2011 closure rate.
To address the RD/FRD review challenge, the NDC instituted a collaborative approach where, for the first time, inter-agency teams conduct page-level reviews of other agencies’ records that lack the mandated review for this type of information.
Although the NDC must take a “factory” approach in order to provide the most records in the shortest amount of time, we do try to address certain special collections of special researcher interest or historic significance. During 2011, that included the first authorized release of the full “Pentagon Papers” and a collection of historical records related to the construction of the Berlin Wall. In 2012, special collection processing efforts include previously classified documents on the Katyn Atrocities, POW/MIA records not previously processed, and records related to the Cuban Missile Crisis.