Secrecy Check: Classification and Declassification

Each year, the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) reports to the President on the statistics and costs government classification and declassification programs. The report for FY 2012 is available here.

Original Classification Decisions

Original classification activity continued its fall in 2012 along with a small decrease in the number of classification authorities. Authorities made 73,477 original classification decisions, a 42 percent decrease from 2011 and a 67 percent decrease since 2010. In its report to the President, ISOO attributes the decreases in part to the Fundamental Declassification Guidance Review conducted throughout 2012.

The average number of original classifications per person with OCA authority fell from 54 to 32. The number of original classifiers decreased from 2,362 to 2,326.

Declassified Pages

In FY 2012, 44.92 million pages were reviewed for declassification through the automatic, systematic, and discretionary programs. Of those pages, 44 percent (19.85 million pages) were declassified. The rate of declassification dropped 7 percent from FY 2011, in which 51 percent of pages reviewed were declassified. These figures do not include pages declassified by the National Declassification Center (NDC). As of December 30, 2012 the NDC has released 57 million pages to the public with a 61 percent release rate. 

The Costs of Secrecy

Government agencies spent $9.77 billion in 2012 to secure classified documents, $1.59 billion (or 14 percent) less than in 2011. Of that, only $48.65 million was spent on declassification, a decrease of 7.6 percent from 2011. While the total sum and amount spent on declassification both declined, the percentage of the money spent on declassification held steady at only 5 percent. For every dollar spent on declassification, the government spent $199.86 on protecting secrets. 

The cost estimates reported by ISOO do not include estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Security Agency.

Good-Faith Classification Challenges

Executive Order 13526 (December 2009) encourages authorized holders of classified information to challenge the classification status of information that they believe, in good faith, to be improperly classified.

The number of challenges has soared or plummeted year to year. 402 challenges were made in 2012 after only 79 were made in 2011. Of 2012’s challenges, 266 (66.2 percent) were affirmed at their current classification status. 126 (31.3 percent) were overturned in whole or in part. Ten challenges are still open.

New Reporting on Mandatory Declassification Review

For the first time, agencies were required to report their average response time for closing mandatory declassification review (MDR) requests. The reporting requirement will help ISOO better compare MDR response programs across varied sizes of agencies than the previously used MDR backlog statistics. In FY 2012, the average number of days for a MDR response was 228.

Through mandatory declassification review 58.4 percent of pages were declassified in their entirety, 23.3 percent declassified in part, and 18.3 percent were denied. 

For more analysis, visit Secrecy News. 

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