Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel Status During Covid-19 Pandemic

On March 18, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) completely closed its facility in downtown Washington, D.C. due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The staff of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), who also comprise the staff of the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), is affected by the facility closure. ISOO provides all program and administrative support to the ISCAP and the Director of ISOO serves as its Executive Secretary.

While most of the unclassified work of the ISCAP is continuing remotely, all classified work has halted and cannot be performed while the building remains closed. For instance, the ISCAP staff hosts monthly meetings in a classified conference room with representatives from ISCAP-member agencies. Typically, lasting several hours, these meetings focus on discussing and resolving Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) appeals. Each appeal is discussed in great detail – word for word and page by page.  Often, deliberations can continue over multiple meetings until decisions are reached.

Working in a separate secure room, the ISCAP staff prepare classified briefing books that contain the appeal, the records subject to the appeal, as well as other records that can help inform discussions at meetings. The ISCAP staff conducts extensive research and prepares strawman proposals based on both its research and proposals generated by the member agencies.

The ISCAP staff is able to perform some unclassified work from home. It still accepts appeals submitted by email (iscap@nara.gov) and evaluates each appeal to ensure it was filed in accordance with E.O. 13526, “Classified National Security Information,” and the ISCAP ByLaws. It also posts newly declassified documents and ISCAP decisions on its webpage, which was most recently updated on April 9. The staff also updates the requester log on a quarterly basis.

The ISCAP staff cancelled meetings in February, March, and April. All NARA facilities remain closed and public programs, research rooms, and museums remain closed until June 30th, at the earliest. On April 9, NARA told staff that it was cancelling all in-person interagency, stakeholder, and public meetings through June 30. As a result, the ISCAP staff informed member agencies that ISCAP monthly meetings would be cancelled through that date as well. Therefore, the next potential meeting will occur in July, unless closures are extended beyond June 30.

Appellants are advised that, despite the facility closure, they must still abide by the timelines/deadlines in the Bylaws. As the facility remains closed, prospective appellants should use the ISCAP’s email address (iscap@nara.gov) to submit appeals. Prospective appellants may still send appeal requests by mail, but the ISCAP staff will be unable to process them until the facility is reopened. While appellants may also send emails to the ISCAP requesting a status update for their appeal, please understand that the status will remain the same and not change while the building is closed. Additionally, most member agencies also remain closed, or offices within them that are tasked with performing supporting activities are closed. The closures from the pandemic will further increase backlogs of appeals awaiting adjudication. Once NARA and member agencies reopen, it will take additional time to formally process new appeals cases that were accepted while facilities were closed. While these added delays are an unavoidable side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ISCAP staff will do its best to catch up as soon as possible.