FOIA Update: Agencies Implement New JFK Statute

January 1, 1993

FOIA Update
Vol. XIV, No. 1
1993


Agencies Implement New JFK Statute

Federal agencies are now implementing a new federal statute, one somewhat akin to the Freedom of Information Act that provides for special public disclosure of records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

JFK Assassination Records Collection Act

The new statute, entitled the "President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992," Pub. L. No. 102-526, 106 Stat. 3443 (to be codified at 44 U.S.C. § 2107 note), was passed by Congress last year in the midst of heightened public interest in the Kennedy assassination after release of the controversial film "JFK." It became effective immediately upon being signed into law on October 26.

Under this new statute, all Kennedy assassination-related records maintained by the federal government are to be identified and processed for inclusion in a special collection of such records that will be made available for public inspection and copying at the National Archives. This includes many thousands of records compiled on the assassination by congressional committees during the 1970s, most notably the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and excludes only the autopsy records donated to the National Archives pursuant to a deed of gift by the Kennedy family.

To implement the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act, all federal agencies are now required to identify and organize any records in their possession "relating to" the Kennedy assassination and to prepare them for transmission to the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Act provides for such records to be reviewed for sensitivity not according to FOIA exemptions, but rather according to narrower nondisclosure standards that allow for "disclosure postponement" only where there exists an overriding need to protect a government security interest or the interest of an identifiable person. Any record believed by an agency to meet these standards must be reviewed by a newly created Assassination Records Review Board, which will hold final disclosure authority under the Act except in any case in which the President personally overrules it.

Additionally, the Act requires agencies to create administrative records, called "identification aids," for all Kennedy assassination records in their possession. Once an agency identifies a record as falling within the coverage of the Act, it must determine whether the record originated there or elsewhere; whether the record previously has been disclosed to the public, in whole or in part; and whether any information contained in the record is of such sensitivity that it falls within a specific "disclosure postponement" provision in the view of the agency.

Agencies must specify such information on "identification aids" for their Kennedy assassination records, in a "compatible electronic" form, which is designed to facilitate both further review and the process of public inspection. All "identification aids" will be compiled electronically to form a "central directory" for Kennedy assassination records at the National Archives.

The Act provides that agencies must meet these responsibilities "as soon as practicable," but "not later than 300 days" after its enactment.

While this statute thus creates a novel disclosure mechanism for Kennedy assassination records that is distinct from the Freedom of Information Act, many agencies are implementing it primarily through their established FOIA channels--as an activity ancillary to FOIA administration--and FOIA officers at all agencies should be aware of this new statute's immediate requirements.

National Archives Coordination

Implementation of the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act is being overseen and coordinated by the National Archives and Records Administration, which holds responsibility under the Act for establishing the new record collection and for coordinating the creation of "identification aids" by all agencies on a uniform basis. Related questions can be directed to Mary Ronan of the National Archives, at (202) 501-5313.

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