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National Archives Accelerates Declassification Project

Cross-agency collaboration, public engagement, and improved technology key to processing a backlog of 400 million pages by December 2013.

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The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has accelerated its project to declassify millions of government documents to meet a December 2013 deadline.

The agency's National Declassification Center (NDC) currently has a backlog of more than 400 million classified pages of documents it must work through to meet the deadline, and it's come up with a prioritization plan to do so, according to a blog post on the U.S. CIO Web site.

Cross-agency collaboration, citizen engagement, and IT improvements are key parts of the plan.

NARA has worked across the government to create a new baseline process it will continue to tweak as it declassifies its backlog. The public also will have a chance via social networking tools and the NDC blog to weigh in on which records they are most interested in seeing, according to the post.

IT improvements also are a key part of NARA's strategy to meet the declassification deadline and prevent future backlogs like the one the NDC is grappling with. One of those enhancements is a better database to handle the "staggering" amount of documents NARA handles every year, according to the post.

To date, the agency has preserved about 9 billion pages of textual records, not to mention millions of maps, charts, architectural drawings, photographs, data sets, film reels, and videotapes. NARA also has an expanding number of electronic files it's releasing to the public through the electronic records archives (ERA) program.

Technology also is being used to improve people's ability to search through the documents NARA preserves and declassifies. The agency currently is polishing a new online search system that will allow people to search through 20 million federal archives.

Classified documents have typically been released after 25 years, but before President Obama created the NDC in 2009, there were no standards in place for how or in what order they were released.

The NDC is tasked with not only streamlining the release process but also with consulting the public to vet interest in documents to prioritize their release, based on which ones people want to read.

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