President Barak Obama issued a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government January 21, 2009. President Obama states that his administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. He will work with the Executive Branch to ensure public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. He believes that openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
The current order on classified information Executive Order 13526 was issued by President Obama on December 29, 2009, and it revoked and replaced the previous orders, 13292 and 12958. E.O. 13526 prescribes a "uniform system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information." The Order declares that the democratic principals of our nation require that the American people be informed of the activities of their Government while it simultaneously acknowledges that "the national interest has required that certain information be maintained in confidence in order to protect our citizens, our democratic institutions, and our participation within the community of nations." The order requires the automatic declassification of records of permanent historical value that are more than 25 years old. The Order also recognizes that some information might remain sensitive and pose a threat to the national security if released at the 25-year mark so it may have a duration up to 75 years.
On March 28, 2003, President George W. Bush amended EO 12958 with Executive Order 13292. This amendment called upon all agencies to make the concept of automatic declassification of 25 year-old or older historical classified records a reality by December 31, 2006. Other changes reflected new priorities resulting form the events of September 11, 2001.
On April 17, 1995, President William J. Clinton signed Executive Order 12958, "Classified National Security Information." The Order reflected one of President Clinton's administration's highest priorities: the principle of openness in government. It gave the public unprecedented access to previously classified government information. The Department of Energy had a fundamental belief that openness was the first step in a logical progression of public participation in government, which provided better government accountability and fostered public trust, ultimately resulting in government better serving the people.
Executive Order 12958 formalized the concept of openness that the Department had worked so hard to implement since 1993. In fact, the Department of Energy's declassification program served as a model for some of the key elements contained in the order which were designed to eliminate improper classification.
Under the previous Executive order, National Security Information was classified indefinitely with no regard for the public's right to know. This policy resulted in the unnecessary classification of many historically significant records, making them unavailable to the public for no good reason. Executive order 12958, however, no longer allowed this information to remain classified indefinitely.
Specifically, the order required that Government agencies automatically declassify, by the year 2000, all permanently valuable National Security Information records that were 25 years old or older, and that did not contain information which was exempt from declassification under one of nine specific categories of currently sensitive information. Until then, Agencies were to declassify an appropriate percentage of such records annually. In order to prevent the inadvertent declassification of sensitive nuclear weapons information, the Department was to review records prior to their declassification and public release. The release of such records would assist proliferants in their quest to develop a nuclear weapons program.
Executive Order 12958 did not apply to and, therefore, could not require the automatic declassification of all types of classified information. In fact, the Department's information of most interest to stakeholders, that is classified Restricted Data information specifically concerning our nuclear weapons program, was not covered by the Executive order. Restricted Data is classified under the Atomic Energy Act, which does not require large-scale review and release.
Regardless, in order to meet the needs of our customers, we have committed to include all historical records related to our nuclear weapons program in our reviews for declassification under the Executive order, whether required or not. This approach to implementing Executive Order 12958 ensures that the maximum amount of the Department's historical records of most interest to our stakeholders are made publicly available.