January 16, 2022

National Archives Works on Declassifying Massive Backlog of Documents

From The Washington Post:

The Air Force’s “Reports on Soviet Air Power and Strategic Nuclear Weapons,” about 2,500 pages in all, were produced between 1952 and 1955 — but not until earlier this year were 2,210 pages made public. The release is part of a massive effort at the National Archives and Records Administration to clear a backlog of nearly 400 million pages of material that should have been declassified a long time ago.

“All of these pages had been piling up here, literally,” said Sheryl J. Shenberger, a former CIA official who is the head of the National Declassification Center (NDC) at the National Archives. “We had to develop a Costco attitude: We had 400 million pages . . . and we have three years to do them in.”


The nearly 400 million pages of material had already been reviewed by the department or agency that produced them. But they could not be released until every other agency whose information might be contained in a document had also looked at them and signed off on a declassification decision. That process proved to be a bureaucratic stovepipe through which nothing much moved.

To cut through the mountain of paper, the NDC has introduced a risk-management approach to the documents. Instead of attempting to look at every document, all the relevant agencies agreed to look at a small sample of a particular series. If the reviewers, drawn from all agencies, decide by looking at the sample that the earlier agency review was a good one, then the remainder of the documents that the agency had cleared is made public.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.