Legislation to add greater transparency to classification processes introduced

FILE - A man walks past boxes that were moved out of the Eisenhower Executive Office building,...
FILE - A man walks past boxes that were moved out of the Eisenhower Executive Office building, just outside the West Wing, inside the White House complex, Jan. 14, 2021, in Washington. The mishandling of classified documents is not a problem unique to President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 8:37 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Legislation that would streamline the process and add more transparency to systems of classification for government documents has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) says he joined Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to introduce the Classification Reform Act of 2023 and the Sensible Classification Act of 2023 on Wednesday, May 10.

Sen. Moran said the legislation would reform the security classification system to reduce over-classification, prevent mishandling of classified information, promote better use of intelligence and create more public trust.

“In the digital age, our classification system is absorbing a flood of new, critical information,” Moran noted. “When it comes to declassifying documents, our current declassification process costs $18 billion a year and is about as effective as using an eye dropper to drain a flood. These deficiencies undermine our national security, and a backlog of unnecessary classified material is harming our ability to protect what should be secret from our enemies. We are long overdue for an overhaul that begins with an up-to-date declassification system in order to better secure our national secrets, and it begins with the two bills introduced today.”

Moran said the Classification Reform Act would undertake significant reforms to the process. Among other steps, it would establish a new system of governance and accountability for the security classification system. It also provides information that can only be classified or remain that way for 25 years to allow only agency heads or the President to extend protections beyond that.

“The government systematically overclassifies too much information, at a dangerous cost to both the nation’s security and the public trust,” said Sen. Warner. “At the same time, we too often fail to protect the nation’s most important secrets.  As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I think it is clear that our security classification system is badly in need of change. Given the explosion in digital records, the status quo is no longer tenable. We’ve got too many people with access to a system that is devoid of accountability and has grown increasingly byzantine, bureaucratic, and outmoded. We need to protect our national security secrets, and then declassify those secrets when protections are no longer necessary. It’s time for Congress to take action and establish accountability.”

In addition, Moran indicated that the bill also takes several other steps to improve security while transparency is expanded. This includes the establishment of minimum standards for executive branch insider threat programs from secure facilities.

“Controlling access to sensitive information enables the U.S. to remain at least one step ahead of its adversaries, but declassification gives us the opportunity to work with our allies around the world and show the American people what their government is doing,” said Sen. Cornyn. “These bills would modernize the process for classification, ensure the safety and security of what should be classified, and make the declassification process more efficient as we seek to strike the delicate balance between transparency and secrecy.”

According to Moran, the Sensible Classification Act would codify classification authority, streamline the process for declassification, dedicate more resources to the issue, invest in new technology to help with classification reviews and undertake an evaluation of existing clearances and justifications to find potential areas for more reform.

“Public access to government information is vital to a democratic society. Yet, as has been the case for many years, far too many records are classified. And, because of obsolete technology, far too few of those records ever see the light of day, even after they no longer meet the requirements for classification. One necessary step in addressing this crisis is to put someone in charge of modernizing the system so that records are tracked and then declassified and released when appropriate,” said Sen. Wyden. “This legislation accomplishes that goal by designating the DNI as the Executive Agent for Classification and Declassification, a reform that Senator Moran and I have been pushing for years.  It is also critical that the rules that govern declassification of records be updated and strengthened and that the entities responsible for oversight of the system be empowered.”

In 2020, Moran noted that he and Wyden introduced the Declassification Reform Act of 2020 which is included in the Classification Reform Act of 2023.

To read a summary of the bills, click HERE.