Time to Take Advantage of the PIDB’s Potential

Among various important issues the 112th Congress will need to address before adjourning, is the reauthorization of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), an advisory committee established by Congress in order to promote the fullest possible public access to a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of significant U.S. national security decisions and activities, that is set to sunset at the end of 2012.

The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) is tasked with the responsibility of “transforming classification.”  Since its creation in 2004, the PIDB has made several important recommendations and reports  to the President—but none since 2009. In 2011, the board publicly posted white papers of its proposals toward transforming classification, receiving input and comment from the declassification community.  The Board’s report and recommendations to the President are due this fall.

Prior to leaving for the election recess, Senators Lieberman and Collins introduced S.3564, a bill that makes certain changes to the PIDB’s appointment process and extends its authorization till 2018. A similar extension of the PIDB’s authority is included in the pending 2013 Intelligence Authorization bill. Reauthorizing the PIDB to continue its work through 2018 is just the first step that must be taken for the board to be utilized to the greatest benefit of the public and government. The board’s expertise, presence, and knowledge are essential tools for keeping the administration’s eye on the challenges facing declassification, but in order to truly transform classification, the PIDB’s task should be transformed as well.

The PIDB’s expertise and connection the public makes it uniquely qualified to help steer the declassification process instead of standing as an informed observer. It does not, however, have its own independent declassification authority, which would allow it to tackle the toughest classification issues. It should additionally be tasked to outline specific, practical steps for Congress and the executive branch to take to reduce the scope and duration of classification while increasing the simplicity and integrity of the classification system. The government should draw on the PIDB’s scholarship, recommendations, and experience to transform classification in a concrete, practical way.

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