Letter to Senators John Warner and Daniel Patrick Moynihan re: amendment to PL104-106 to delay declassification of federal documents

The Society sent the following letter to Senators John Warner and Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

September 5, 1998

Senator John Warner
Chair, Senate Armed Forces Committee
225 Russell Building
Washington, D.C.  20510

Dear Senator Warner:

On behalf of the Society of American Archivists, we wish to bring to your attention an urgent matter of utmost concern to the public interest.  Your committee will soon be considering an amendment to PL 1-4-106, Section 3146 HR 3616 (the Kyl amendment).  We solicit your help in turning this amendment aside.

The Society of American Archivists is the oldest and largest association of archivists in the United States, representing more than 3,300 individuals and 400 institutions.  It is the authoritative voice in the United States on issues that affect the identification, preservation, and use of the historical record.

The pending Department of Defense appropriations bill includes an amendment regarding the process of declassifying records of historical value that will, if passed, virtually put a stop to the positive progress that has been made in opening the historical record under the 1995 Executive Order 12958.  We believe that this attempt to delay -- and possibly to stop completely -- the declassification and release of 25 year old historical records by requiring a "visual inspection" of all pages prior to their release is contrary to the spirit of openness embodied in the President's Executive Order.   In the past two years alone, over 600,000 pages have been declassified by the Executive Branch agencies under the existing Executive Order -- nearly one quarter of the total number of pages expected to be released by the year 2000.

Please understand that the Society supports a rational policy for identifying a tiny portion of records that contain "Restricted Data" or "Formerly Restricted Data" and we share the concern of the Department of Energy for protection of that information.  However, the overwhelming majority of records that would be subject to release under E.O. 12958 are known not to contain this type of information.   They should therefore not be subject to the procedures recommended in the Kyl amendment, which would be overly time-consuming, costly and unnecessary.

This proposed amendment is clearly not in the public's interest.  We are appealing to you because of your extensive knowledge of military issues and your desire to serve the best interests of the American people by encouraging openness in government information policy.

We urge you to give this matter your immediate attention and help provide a balanced and rational approach to this vitally important issue.  The Society would welcome an opportunity to provide you with further information or to discuss this with you at any time.


Luciana Duranti
The Society of American Archivists