Aug 01 2013

Risch, Shaheen Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Reform Government Classification Systems

Legislation would increase transparency and government efficiency while reducing costs

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Jim Risch (R-ID) introduced legislation this morning to reform and improve the government’s classification systems.  The bipartisan bill includes a number of common-sense recommendations from the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) designed to promote transparency and efficiency by reducing unnecessary classification and addressing the growing backlog of records awaiting declassification.

Designed Prior to World War II, the federal government’s classification and declassification systems were never designed to manage the volume of data associated with modern security operations.  According to a PIDB report, a single intelligence agency classifies one petabyte of data every 18 months – equivalent to 20 million filing cabinets filled with text or approximately 13.3 years of high definition video. Billions of pages await review while the cost of storing these files has doubled over the past decade from $4.7 billion in 2001 to $11.36 billion in 2011. PIDB estimates it would take 2 million employees a full year to review 1 petabyte of information.

“Our government needs to manage national security data more efficiently and effectively,” Shaheen said. “Right now we are classifying too much information and keeping it for too long at the expense of taxpayers and transparency. We can’t stay on this unsustainable path because it leads to a culture of distrust among security professionals and the American people.”

“Our bill will implement important reforms to streamline our government’s data management, boost transparency, and save taxpayers money,” Shaheen added. 

“The outdated classification system being used by our government is long overdue for reform,” Risch said. “This legislation will not only improve the manner in which we classify sensitive national security information, but it will also enhance the public’s access to material of historical significance. This bill is a reasonable first step towards a more transparent and effective classification system for our country.”

Shaheen and Risch’s bipartisan proposal builds on the recommendations issued in January by the PIDB, which details concerns with the current classification system and calls for reforms to the current system. The Shaheen-Risch legislation directs the relevant government agencies to automatically declassify information with already identified with short-term sensitivity and enhance the National Declassification Center, which is charged with streamlining and overseeing the declassification process, through technology upgrades and public participation.

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