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AHA, McDermott, others comment on “Improving Declassification” Report

Last year, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), an advisory committee established by Congress, issued a report to the President, Improving Declassification. (See also: Improving Declassification, 2008-01-13).

On March 17, 2008, the PIDB heard public comments on its report. For a report on those comments and links to many of the comments, see:

Among the comments were concerns that funding would ultimately be the biggest stumbling block to realizing the recommendations and that too many documents are classified in the first place, which contributes to the overload of the declassification system. Tom Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University suggested that the PIDB recommendations should be transformed into a draft executive order for immediate consideration by the incoming president. Mark Zaid, Executive Director of the James Madison Project encouraged the PIDB to pursue declassification of records of Congress, and classified judicial records.

Representing the American Historical Association (AHA), Dr. Brian Martin, President and Chief Operating Officer, of History Associates, Inc. noted that the value of audio, video and digital media value may increase over time and urged The National Archives (NARA) to avoid thinking that “if we have it on paper, we don’t need to preserve it in another format.”

Dr. Patrice McDermott, Director of Open-The-Government.Org many in the public interest community fear that electronic records, including historically significant records, are being lost or destroyed.

With regard to “sensitive but unclassified” documents, she expressed a need for a clear review process of these unlimited control markings, rather than linking them to declassification review after 25 years and treating them as “super-classified. As previous witnesses said, she agreed that much of the problem is caused by massive over-classification at the front end of the process

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