Examining the Costs of Overclassification on Transparency and Security

Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Hearing Date: December 7, 2016 9:00 am 2154 Rayburn HOB

PURPOSE:
  • 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.
BACKGROUND:
  • 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.

TAKEAWAYS:

  • 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.

KEY VIDEOS:

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

Name Title Organization Panel Document
Mr. J. William Leonard Former Director Information Security Oversight Office Document
Mr. Steven Aftergood Director, Project on Government Secrecy Federation of American Scientists Document
Mr. Tom Blanton Director, National Security Archive The George Washington University Document
Mr. Scott Amey General Counsel Project on Government Oversight Document