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Letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives Urging Congressional Approval of Funds for Declassification of World War II Documents

August 03, 1971

Dear Mr. Speaker:

I am asking the Congress today to approve a supplemental appropriation for fiscal year 1972 of $636,000 for the General Services Administration, so that we can begin an immediate and systematic effort to declassify the documents of World War II.

These documents are more than 25 years old, and after careful consideration, I believe that we must now undertake a massive declassification if the United States is to retain its traditional leadership in providing accessibility to historical papers, and if we are to preserve respect for those sensitive materials which should properly remain classified.

For the past several months representatives of the National Archives and Records Service of the General Services Administration held discussions with the Departments of State and Defense on the problems of declassification of those documents. They have agreed that approximately 90-95 percent of the classified documents of the 1940-1945 period can now be declassified if the necessary funding can be obtained.

The task ahead is mammoth, as it involves nearly 160 million pages of classified documents contained in 49,000 cubic feet of paper records and over 18,500 rolls of microfilm held by the National Archives alone. Wherever feasible "bulk declassification" techniques will be used; but to protect the 5 to 10 percent of the materials that still possess some degree of sensitivity, a substantial amount of page by page screening will be necessary. The General Services Administration estimates that the project may require as many as five years to complete. If the Government is to allow scholars and the general public the access to the material which they deserve, it is important that we begin now.

Since January of this year, a high-level, interagency study has been underway within the Government to review general procedures for classifying and declassifying sensitive materials.1 While my request today does not spring directly from that effort, it does reflect the same priority which this administration places upon the open conduct of public affairs. In this age of uncertainty, it is clear that our security depends as much upon public trust and understanding as upon the protection of legitimate State secrets.

1An interagency group, chaired by William H. Rehnquist, Assistant Attorney General) Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice, was set up at the President's request on January 15, 1971, to conduct the study.

With this proposal today, I am transmitting a letter from the Director of the Office of Management and Budget setting forth his views on this appropriation. I ask the Congress to give swift consideration to this request.



[Honorable Carl Albert) Speaker of the House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.]

Note: On August 12, 1971, the White House released the transcript of a news briefing by John D. Ehrlichman, Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, and John W. Dean III, Counsel to the President, on classification and declassification procedures in the Federal Government.

The letter from George P. Shultz, Director, Office of Management and Budget, which was transmitted with the President's letter, is printed in House Document 92-151.

Richard Nixon, Letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives Urging Congressional Approval of Funds for Declassification of World War II Documents Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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