Congressional Requirements to Digitize Military Service Records Support Progress toward Improving Classification and Declassification

The Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020) National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requires that the Department of Defense (DOD) provide veterans and former members of the Armed Services with a machine readable and electronically transferable Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty (DD Form 214) by December 31, 2023.  This legislation supports the implementation of technology in information management that has broader applications capable of supporting the transformation of the national security classification system. The Congress also required the Secretary of Defense to report on its implementation plans by May 20, 2020.  This report should provide technical information, processes, and IT investments that may assist other Executive Branch agencies in digitizing their records. The report may also offer useful information that can assist more precise classification and improved declassification.

In the 2018 ISOO Annual Report to the President, ISOO Director Mark Bradley emphasized the need for Executive Branch agencies to use technologies to make their records machine readable. Use of these technologies could “support precise, consistent, and accurate classification decisions,” and “prepare for the declassification, decontrol, and public access reviews of large volumes of classified information and CUI in electronic formats.”  Although these records are not classified, they do contain Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). Digitizing the DD-214 form will demonstrate an example of how machine readable technologies can improve access. This project can offer a model for developing similar tools to improve classification and declassification, CUI, and information management.

To support the digitization of DD-214 military service records, the legislation specifies that the Secretary of Defense must report to Congress:

1) The DOD information systems that still require manual entry of information from DD-214 forms;

2) The DOD activities that veterans and former Armed Forces members still must enter on paper DD-214 forms;

3) The priority given by the DOD for digitizing submission of DD-214 forms; and

4) The estimated cost of automating the submission and entry of DD-214 forms into DOD systems.

This report could also assist the Executive Branch transition to electronic recordkeeping as required by the joint Office of Management and Budget (OMB)/National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Memo M-19-21. This memo required that Executive Branch agencies manage their permanent records in electronic format by the end of 2019. It also stipulates that, by the end of 2022, NARA will only accept the transfer of both permanent and temporary records in electronic format, and they must have appropriate metadata to facilitate search, retrieval, and access. In its initial report to Congress, DOD can aid other Executive Branch agencies in developing solutions that use machine readable technologies to support digitization of their paper records. It also could benefit these agencies as they develop and implement electronic systems to manage all of their electronic information, including CUI and classified national security information.

The ISOO Overview Blog plans to post additional information about the contents of the Secretary of Defense’s report to Congress on the digitization of military service records as it is made available to the public.