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Archivist: We're restoring records access

By Eugenia Harris
First Amendment Center Online

Allen Weinstein

WASHINGTON — More than 30 years ago, few people could have predicted that the Freedom of Information Act would become the “cornerstone of access to public records,” Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein said today.

Addressing the National Freedom of Information Day Conference, Weinstein said that when he won a FOIA lawsuit against the FBI in 1975, he had no idea that the federal Sunshine law would become so pivotal to maintaining democracy.

Now as the ninth archivist, Weinstein is working not only to preserve government records, but also to protect the public’s right to gain access to these records through the National Archives.

Weinstein discussed the archives’ recent creation of the National Declassification Initiative, a project to reclassify documents and return them to open shelves for public access.

The project is getting under way amid an Associated Press audit released this week that found more than 1 million pages had been removed from public view since the September 2001 terror attacks. "In some cases, entire file boxes were removed without significant review because the government's central record-keeping agency, the National Archives and Records Administration, did not have time for a thorough audit," the AP reported.

In the last fiscal year, Weinstein said, the National Archives improved its completion rate for FOIA requests, filling more than 80% of its requests within 20 days and more than 70% of the requests within 10 days, half the time required by law.

Weinstein was confirmed as archivist in February 2005. In April 2006, AP news reports disclosed that a secret agreement had been made in 2002 between the National Archives and three federal agencies to seal previously public intelligence documents. The AP reported that archivists were concerned about reclassifying previously available documents but still agreed to keep mum about the arrangement.

Weinstein said at today's conference that he had learned about that secret deal through press reports. At the time of the AP report, he said he applauded the release of the agreement and that he had started an internal agency review on how best to handle reclassification. That review resulted in the current project to restore records availability.

This year's National FOI Day conference theme is “Access: Oversight & Priorities.” A number of other prominent experts are on the agenda, which will include two panel discussions.


National Archives OK'd removing records, kept quiet

Three government agencies made secret deal with archives to reclassify material that had been available to public for decades. 04.12.06

Weinstein, McMasters headline FOI Day
News release U.S. archivist, First Amendment expert, others examine 'Access: Oversight & Priorities.' 03.15.07

U.S. removed 1 million papers to foil terrorists
Documents stowed out of view by government record-keepers include the presumably dangerous and the likely harmless, AP review finds. 03.16.07

James Madison Award goes to Paul McMasters
By Nikki Troia Long-time First Amendment advocate wins honor for championing public's right to know. 03.16.07

Probe classified documents, reporter urges
By Nikki Troia Washington Post's Dana Priest tells FOI Day panel classifications are so overused as to be meaningless. 03.16.07

Bush presidency: accent on secrecy, panelists say
By Eugenia Harris 1966 FOIA law 'hasn’t been completely integrated and accepted by the federal government,' says Meredith Fuchs, National Security Archive. 03.16.07

Cost of declassifying U.S. WWII records nearly $30 million
Much of that could have been saved, report says, had government complied with its own declassification rules. 10.05.07

Federal declassification effort faces huge problems, panel says
Report by presidential-congressional advisory board says government is lagging behind in releasing classified info and issue is getting worse as agencies create more electronic records. 01.13.08

'My first two years: access issues at the National Archives'
Speech by Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein at National FOI Day Conference, March 16, 2007. 03.23.07

2007 National FOI Day conference: Agenda

Sunshine Week '07 at a glance

National FOI Day

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