WASHINGTON, D.C. — An executive order signed in early November by President Clinton has triggered the declassification of 43.9 million government records in the largest single declassification action ever, according to the Secrecy & Government Bulletin, a publication of the Washington, D.C.-based Federation of American Scientists.
The order requires the National Archives and Records Administration to declassify in bulk and without review most World War II records, and an even greater number of records amassed by the government since 1945, including nearly 6 million Army records on the Vietnam conflict.
Acting Assistant Archivist Michael Kurtz told the Bulletin, “There are a lot of routine records and there are some of tremendous historical value,” but he said that, more importantly, “we have finally completed the World War II historical record and we have begun to fill in the blanks in post-war history.”
The Clinton administration had intended to issue the order as part of the D-Day commemoration in June, but Kurtz told the Bulletin that it required a lot of coordination and that some agencies needed assurance “that we weren’t just willy-nilly throwing things open.”
Bulletin editor Steven Aftergood estimated that the bulk declassification probably saved tens of millions of dollars since declassification review typically costs at least a dollar per page.
President Clinton in April 1993 ordered a review of classification procedures, promising a new executive order limiting the kinds of records that the government can classify and putting a ceiling on the number of years records will retain their classified status.
(Executive Order 12937, published November 15, 1994 in the Federal Register.)
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