Draft Guidance for Automatic Declassification

FAS Intro: This draft document is intended to explain the responsibilities of government agencies for complying with the requirements of Executive Order 12958 for automatic declassification of documents that are more than 25 years old. It was issued by the Information Security Oversight Office within the Office of Management and Budget and circulated for comment to executive branch agencies on June 8.


June 7, 1995


REQUIREMENT: No later than the effective date of Executive Order 12958, Classified National Security Information, October 16, 1995, each agency head or senior agency official shall provide the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office with a plan for the automatic declassification of information contained in records that have permanent historical value and are more than 25 years old. Authority: Sections 3.4 and 5.6 of E.O. 12958, 60 Federal Register 19832, April 20, 1995.

PURPOSE: This guidance provides criteria for the development of agency declassification plans for compliance with the requirement above. It responds to a Presidential requirement to declassify automatically hundreds of millions of pages of information that have been classified over the past 50 years or more. The implementation of this instruction will increase the effectiveness of the Government-wide security classification program by: (a) reducing the tangible costs of protecting unnecessarily classified information; (b) lessening the intangible costs of depriving our citizenry of the fullest possible flow of information; and (c) improving the credibility of the security classification system.



1. These criteria apply to all departments and agencies of the executive branch that have original classification authority or previously had original classification authority; and maintain records appraised as having permanent historical value that contain information classified by that agency.

2. In the case of classified information transferred in conjunction with a transfer of functions, and not merely for storage or archival purposes, the receiving agency shall be deemed to be the originating agency for purposes of this plan.

3. In the case of classified information that is not officially transferred as described in paragraph (2), above, but that originated in an agency that has ceased to exist and for which there is no successor agency, each agency in possession of such information shall be deemed to be the originating agency for purposes of this plan.

4. In the case of Presidential or White House material accessioned into the National Archives or maintained in Presidential Libraries, the Archivist of the United States shall develop a plan to comply with Section 3.4 of E.O. 12958.

B. Submission due dates

1. Initial submission: Not later than October 16, 1995.

No later than that same date, agency heads shall notify the President through the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs of any specific file series of records which are replete with information that almost invariably falls within one of the exemption categories listed in Section 3.4(b) of E.O. 12958. [This is the only opportunity to designate whole file series for exemption.]

2. Updates: Agency declassification plans shall be reviewed periodically and updated at least annually for the next 5 years. Updated plans shall be submitted to the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office no later than October 16 of each year.


A. Scope

This plan pertains to all classified agency records determined under Federal law to have permanent historical value wherever they may be stored. These records may be located or stored in:

(a) The National Archives of the United States (including regional archive branches)
(b) Federal Record Centers
(c) Presidential Libraries
(d) Agency files rooms or repositories
(e) Other agencies
(f) Other approved repositories, including contractor facilities, libraries, etc.

B. Content

Agency plans should include but are not limited to the following:

1. The name, address and phone number of the agency official responsible for overseeing and coordinating agency compliance with this requirement;

2. An estimate [see footnote 1] of the aggregate quantity of agency records subject to this provision; a listing of where these records are located and an approximation of the quantity at each location; and a description of the agencyUs surveying methodology. (Each estimate should reflect cubic feet, or number of pages.)

3. A copy of the description of each file series proposed to be exempt from automatic declassification. This description must include:

a. An explanation of why the information within each file series is almost invariably exempt from automatic declassification.

b. An explanation why the information must remain classified for a longer period of time in the interest of national security; and

c. A specific date or event for declassification of the information (except for the identity of a confidential human source or a human intelligence source).

4. A description of how the agency plans to comply with requirements of Section 3.4 of the Order. The description must include organization, resources and a time-line for completing compliance with the required completion dates. Agencies plans may consider differentiating among the review of three groups of records:

1. Those that are replete with information that almost invariably falls within an exemption category;

2. Those that are unlikely to contain exempt information; and

3. Those that are likely to contain some exempt information within largely non-exempt material.

Agencies plans may also reflect the allocation of resources among these three groups of records. It is reasonable to assume that the third group will require the greatest allocation of resources.

5. A description of any existing or planned database for record keeping purposes and for compliance with Section 3.8 of the Order, entitled, Declassification Database.

In keeping with the spirit and intent of the E.O. 12958, which, inter alia, is to make formerly classified records available to the public, whenever possible agencies should conduct declassification reviews with an eye towards public availability of the information. Subsequent reviews of declassified material for public release usually result in duplicative costs. Agencies should strive to conduct dual purpose declassification/ public access reviews and generate a database of publicly available material.

An agency plan should also consider the establishment of an automated database of currently classified, permanently valuable records to assist in later reviews, and to facilitate public availability of the information upon subsequent declassification.

[footnote 1]

For purposes of tracking and reporting the amount of records declassified by the executive branch over the next five years, ISOO requests that the estimates be either in cubic feet or pages. The following conversion table may be helpful in calculating estimates:

1 Cubic Foot = 2,500 pages
1 Safe drawer = 3 cubic feet = 7,500 pages
1 Federal Record Center Box = 1 cubic foot
1 Archives Box = 1/3 cubic foot = 833 pages