In April 2020, ISOO posted an announcement about how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the operations of the ISCAP. Several months later, those conditions still apply. The ISCAP membership are not meeting to adjudicate cases. The ISCAP Staff only have access to unclassified files. While the ISCAP staff is able to receive new appeals from requesters, they do not have access to their classified workspace to receive and process responsive appeal materials from agencies.
Appellants should be realistic about the capacity of the ISCAP to resume its full functions at the pre-pandemic levels in the coming months. The ISCAP Staff can still conduct basic initial logging and analysis of incoming appeals, but further processing, to include the receipt and analysis of responsive materials from agencies, is not possible. The ISCAP Staff is exploring options for electronic appeal adjudication by the ISCAP membership in the future, but those options are dependent on the ability of all member agencies to connect securely.
Appellants should continue to pay close attention to the deadlines for filing appeals as specified in the ISCAP bylaws. Despite the pandemic those deadlines still apply. Agencies have one year to provide an initial decision for a mandatory declassification review (MDR) request. If no decision is made, the requester has 60 days to appeal to the ISCAP from that one-year deadline. For agency-level MDR appeals, an agency has 180 days to make an appellate decision. If no appellate decision is made, the requester has 60 days from that 180-day deadline to appeal to the ISCAP. If the requester has followed the MDR process through the agency MDR review and appeal stages, the requester has 60 days from the receipt of the final agency appellate decision to appeal to ISCAP. For classification challenges the deadlines are different, as are the conditions specifying who may file a challenge and appeal.
Remember that the ISCAP Staff do not have any latitude to alter these deadlines or conditions. Please also remember that the ISCAP Staff (and agency access staff), while being public servants, are also regular people who are affected by the pandemic at home and who are concerned about the constraints the pandemic has placed on their ability to get their jobs done.
Speaking as a concerned citizen, I have been on the ISCAP Staff since May 2007 and have devoted half of my professional life to the support of this important interagency body. That this pandemic—which has killed so many people worldwide, changed the way we live in community with one another, and thrown so many people out of work—has also halted the ability of those seeking transparency and accountability from the U.S. Government to receive a resolution to their appeals is something I feel very deeply about. We will get out of this, but it will take time.
–Bill Carpenter, ISCAP Staff