New Report Highlights Continued Problems with Classification System

Last week, the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), a component of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), released their annual report on security classification programs, as required by President Obama’s December 2009 Executive Order on classified national security information. The E.O. requires agencies to take a number of actions to improve their classification procedures, and it establishes a National Declassification Center within NARA that will help reduce the backlog of declassified records.

The ISOO report highlights a number of troubling trends. For example, the number of pages declassified in FY 2009 dropped by 8 percent (from 31.4 million pages in FY 2008 to 28.8 million pages in FY 2009), despite a 1 percent increase in the number of pages reviewed for declassification. Agencies also reported a total of 54.7 million derivative classification actions for FY 2009, a 135 percent increase from FY 2008. However, this increase is largely attributed to improved reporting practices that now require agencies to count email and other electronic products when reporting their classification decisions.

One of the most encouraging findings of the report is that agencies currently have the lowest number ever reported of staff who are charged with classifying information. This improvement from previous years is mostly due to the drop in original classifiers at the Department of State, which took taking swift action to decrease the number of staff who can classify information.

Despite President Obama’s commitment to transparency, most classifying agencies clearly have a long way to go to shift away from a deeply embedded culture of secrecy. To read more about recent developments and pending bills that impact classification policy, please read our Issue Brief.

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