Legislation Aimed at Reforming Classification System Introduced

Last week Senators Shaheen and Risch introduced a bill that would help push forward some of the proposals made last year by the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) to improve the classification and declassification system. As highlighted in a blog post by the National Declassification Center (NDC), the proposed bill would require agencies to report to Congress on the feasibility of putting a "short-term" classification system in place that would allow the automatic declassification of records that are classified based on their sensitivity with respect to a pertinent event — once the event is over, the records no longer need to be protected. The bill would also make some reforms that would improve the operation of the National Declassification Center and extend the authorization of the PIDB through 2018. Additionally, the bill would require agencies to report to Congress on options for pilot programs to improve the declassification process, on the feasibility of moving from the current three-tiered system (Top Secret, Secret, and Confidential) to a two tiered system, and on the feasibility of declassifying obsolete nuclear information that has no national security value.

Since the release of the PIDB's recommendations last November, we've urged the President to begin implementing some of the suggestions, including setting up a White-House led steering committee to focus on fixing the classification system. As documented in our Secrecy Report, efforts to improve the declassification process have not kept pace with the escalating amount of classified material produced by the intelligence community. While President Obama's Executive Order on Classification, EO 13526, takes some positive steps, including requiring agencies to update their classification guides and setting up the NDC, more needs to be done. We welcome Congress' continued involvement in finding a solution.

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