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Hearing Hearing Date: December 7, 2016 9:00 am 2154 Rayburn HOB

Examining the Costs of Overclassification on Transparency and Security

Examining the Costs of Overclassification on Transparency and Security
December 7, 2016
9:00 am
2154 Rayburn HOB
Full Committee on Oversight and Accountability
  • To examine overclassification of national security information and other government information, including controlled unclassified information and other designations.
  • To discuss the causes and unintended results of excessive restrictions, and to discuss potential solutions.
  • Congress established the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy in 1994, which stated “a tension has existed between the legitimate interest of the public being kept informed about the activities of its Government and the legitimate interest of the Government in certain circumstances in withholding information; in short, between openness and secrecy.”
  • The struggle to balance openness and secrecy persists nearly 20 years after this report was issued.
  • The Commission issued 16 recommendations, most of which have not yet been fully implemented.


  • Overclassification and excessive secrecy have negative effects on national security and government accountability.
  • Excessive classification prevents Congress from fully investigating and holding government agencies accountable.
  • The federal government spent more than $100 billion during the last 10 years on security classification activities, and yet, it is estimated 50 to 90 percent of classified material is not properly labeled.
  • Federal agencies often mark documents classified and withhold information for decades simply because they contain embarrassing material.


National Security Subcommittee Chairman Desantis (R-FL): “I think we all agree – some of this stuff is ridiculous and there’s an incentive to just simply cake on more classification. Some of this stuff isn’t even classified, it’s being protected, but at the same time I just think it’s important to recognize that there is a legitimate reason to [classify].”

Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA): “So across the board we still have a serious problem, there may be some improvements, but we still have a serious problem with sharing information even when potential threats are hanging in the balance of our country.”

Rep Thomas Massie (R-KY): “But 60 percent of those redactions [of the 28 pages] fall into a very troubling category for me, they change the very nature of the document and the way it’s perceived by the public and the impact that it should have had . . . this is going to be a textbook case of how the government overclassified something in an effort to control the narrative.”

Witnesses and testimonies: Mr. J. William Leonard

Former Director
Information Security Oversight Office


Mr. Steven Aftergood

Director, Project on Government Secrecy
Federation of American Scientists


Mr. Tom Blanton

Director, National Security Archive
The George Washington University


Mr. Scott Amey

General Counsel
Project on Government Oversight