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THREAD/ I'm happy to report/humblebrag that my efforts to force transparency have gotten results.

The National Archives is changing a major aspect of its murky, decades-long process of deciding which govt records get destroyed and which get kept permanently.
2/ In Aug 2017, I saw in the Federal Register that ICE was asking NARA (National Archives) for permission to destroy all documents about the deaths & rapes of detainees in ICE custody.

I requested ICE's proposal & posted it, then let some reporters know

3/ The story got a lot of attention, especially when the ACLU picked up on it. NARA is currently communicating with ICE about changing its request.

But even though this got attention, it didn't lead to a larger questioning of the entire process.
4/ In July 2018 I decided to force the issue in a systematic way.

1-3 times per month, NARA announces in the Federal Register which agencies have made proposals to destroy records (and, more rarely, to permanently retain records). Here's an example:

5/ I started requesting ALL proposals and posting them to my site:


These proposals NEVER got posted by NARA or the agencies themselves. For decades, the only sign of their existence was a few lines 2-3 times per month in the Federal Register.
6/ Once in a while, I would highlight a particularly troubling agency proposal, like these two:




Still, when it came to how murky & flawed this process is, I was hearing crickets.
7/ On Oct 16, 2018, as part of my project to post all agency proposals, I put up the Interior Dept's massive request and gave it a posting of its own:


I sent an email about it to some colleagues, reporters, and a mailing list about public records.
8/ The interest was explosive. Transparency folks, enviro folks, and wildlife folks were alarmed and upset.

The news was widely shared via mailing lists and social media. @SarahOkeson at @DCReportMedia was the first journalist to write about it.
@SarahOkeson @DCReportMedia 9/ I spoke on the phone to reporters from the NYT & WaPo but neither outlet ran a story.

I was told that when reporters inquired, NARA's response was basically: This is the [opaque, problematic] way we've ALWAYS done this. Nothing to see. Move along.

And the media mostly did.
10/ But scientists, librarians, archivists, activists, and others knew it was important. They shared the news via mailing lists & social media.

This was largely a word-of-mouth phenomenon.
11/ NARA ended up getting **12,000+ individual comments** about Interior's proposal, which is about 12,000+ more comments than they normally get via this hidden process:

12/ With the flood of interest & concern sustained over 10 days (which is actually an eon in today's nanosecond news cycle), NARA posted Interior's request on October 26:


along with some "nothing to see here, everything's fine" language.
13/ The next week, for the first time ever, NARA proactively posted a records-destruction request from an agency:


They directly credited this move to the interest in Interior's proposal that I originally posted.
14/ Now the big news: NARA has changed its ways. They announced today that they'll be publicly posting ALL agency requests to destroy or preserve records...

15/ ... And again they credit the "clear, widespread" public interest in this previously obscure, arcane process, an interest triggered by Interior's proposal.
16/ NARA is also extending the public comment period on each proposal from 30 days to 45 days, another welcome change, although I'd prefer it be at least 60 days.
17/ NARA will also post a summary of and overall reply to all public comments on any given agency proposal, and they'll explain what changes, if any, were made to the agency's original proposal.
18/ NARA will be posting the agency proposals to the Federal Register website, regulations.gov. I'd rather see a more prominent & less clunky approach, namely setting up a dedicated area of NARA's website for this. But at least the proposals will be posted.
19/ One thing that didn't happen. A number of transparency & enviro organizations asked NARA to bring in outside experts for consultation on each agency proposal.

Ask tax experts about IRS proposals, immigration groups about ICE proposals, historians about State Dept proposals.
20/ Apparently this won't be happening. In outlining the news process, NARA indicates this aspect won't change, saying they will only "consult with the Federal agency seeking the disposition authority as needed." But maybe this is something that can be implemented in the future.
21/ So, this crucial process that determines which govt documents get destroyed and when they get destroyed is now much more transparent, although it could still be improved a lot (but that's for a different thread).
22/ And this change doesn't seem to have affected NARA's mindset that the vast majority of govt documents should eventually be destroyed.

As it stands, 95%-98% of govdocs are destroyed; only 2%-5% are kept permanently. Even here in the digital age.
23/ In the end, it's still a handful of people at NARA and a handful of people at each federal agency deciding when our government's documents get destroyed.

This new development is a major step, but it's just the first one that needs to happen.

TL;DR: Forcing transparency gets results!

(But it's a never-ending process.)
P.S.: Here's the National Archives' official notice about making the process more transparent:

P.P.S: I'll still be keeping an eye on this process.

At the very least, I'll tweet a link each time a new batch of records-destruction proposals are posted to regulations.gov.

And I'll highlight the most troubling proposals from agencies.
Tips to keep me afloat and stirring things up:

UPDATE: The National Archives, as promised, has started posting records-destruction proposals it receives from agencies, giving us time to publicly comment.

(It's being more transparent after the uproar over the Interior Dept's proposal I posted.)

Let me give you some links....
The first batch of records-destruction requests ever posted by the National Archives is here:


(Until now, you had to request any given proposal you wanted to see.)

Proposals are from TSA, IRS, SEC, USCIS, Veterans Health Admin, others.
Click each link to be taken to the page where you can download the agency's proposal. (Unfortunately, the PDFs don't open within your browser, which would be much more convenient.)

Each one also has a prominent "Comment Now!" button, so you can instantly make your opinion known.
There's already a second batch of records-destruction requests from agencies awaiting your comments:


Customs & Border Protection (CBP)
Forest Service
Defense Security Service
Census Bureau
National Institutes of Health
Soon I'll read through these and flag any that are especially troubling.
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