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New Center Helps Promote Records Classification Review

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30, 2005 – A government-wide effort to declassify documents that no longer need protecting, including thousands of Defense Department materials, took a big step forward last week with the official opening of the Interagency Referral Center, in College Park, Md.

The new center, at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, is part of an initiative launched in 1995 to promote openness within the federal government and encourage the release of as many materials as possible to the American public. An executive order signed by then-President Clinton ordered the declassification of historically valuable information that's at least 25 years old and no longer has national security implications.

The order gave federal agencies until 2009 to review more than 80 million pages of classified records referred by other agencies to determine if they can be declassified, explained Miriam Kleiman, public affairs specialist for NARA.

To help promote information sharing and coordination between agencies, NARA established the Interagency Referral Center as a pilot program in December, Kleiman said. Tucked into a back room at the facility, the center consisted of just three agencies, the Air Force, Navy and Army, which began testing the interagency concept with 40 boxes of documents but no computers or database.

Due to the pilot's success and an increase in participating agencies, the center expanded into a full suite, which now includes representatives of the three services, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Office of the Secretary of Defense, CIA and State Department. Other executive-branch offices also use the center part time, based on the volume of documents awaiting their review.

The center staff sponsored an open house Aug. 23 to officially open the new facility and showcase its increased capabilities.

JoAnne Collins, chief of the Air Force team at the center, said the new facility increased the resources available to specialists reviewing documents and promotes valuable collaboration between agency representatives.

"There's better focus and less distraction, and the benefit of a lot of corporate knowledge that can be shared," she said.

While the emphasis may be on declassification, Collins stressed that documents that impact on national security remain protected. This includes documents involving state-of-the-art technical developments, treaties, weapons of mass destruction, and many security matters, she said.

"We're not just arbitrarily making a decision (regarding classification)," Collins said, noting that the declassifiers follow strict guidelines and a system of checks and balances to ensure material that demands classification is protected.

"There's careful review and a lot of collaboration with our counterparts," she said. "And the bottom line is that our goal is to protect the national security."

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