American Collections blog

17 February 2010

Declassified Documents

The end of last year saw the release of Presidential Executive Order 13526, which signified a major overhaul of the US Government’s document classification system. This redefining of the system presents an exciting opportunity for researchers with the prospect of some 400 million previously classified documents being made public by the end of 2013.  The changes will allow the declassification of files that have been closed since the Second World War. Additionally, the Memorandum of Implementation which accompanies the Executive Order specifically requests the US Archivist to provide six monthly progress reports on the status of the backlog. One of the central planks of Executive Order 13526 is the creation of the National Declassification Center which has a responsibility to ensure streamlined “declassification processes, facilitate quality-assurance measures, and implement standardized training regarding the declassification of records determined to have permanent historical value.”

A useful way of keeping abreast of developments relating to past events in US foreign policy is to read the National Security Archive blog Unredacted. In addition to highlighting interesting newly declassified material on its Document Friday postings, it also provides useful research tips on requesting documents under the Freedom of Information Act to help improve chances of a successful freedom of information request. While selective declassified documents will be made available online via the National Security Archive website, for a more exhaustive collection, it maybe necessary to consult the Digital national Security Archive, which is available in the BL reading rooms.

And finally, it’s probably worth mentioning that I traced Executive Order 13526 using the US Government Printing Office new documents database Federal Data System (FDSYS), which allows access to an array of government documents from the 1990s in PDF format, complete with an authentication stamp. Particularly useful are the various expandable indexes included, which allow you to narrow your search by selecting a specific year, agency, subject or even person. At present there is an ongoing process of migrating government publications to FDSYS from the previous online system GPO Access

[J. J.]   


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