Wyden, Thompson Introduce Common Sense Reforms To Rein in Runaway Over-Classification

Bill Places New Limits on Continuous Monitoring of Employees, Reduces Costs, Improves Security

July 29, 2014 (WASHINGTON) – At a time when the federal government spends more than $11 billion classifying more than 80 million documents each year, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced legislation to restore common sense to the classification and security clearance system, while strengthening protections against disclosure of information that could threaten national security.

Thompson, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence introduced The Clearance and Over-Classification Reform and Reduction Act or CORRECT Act, today. The bill will improve information-sharing and government transparency, reduce classification costs, and improve background investigations for people who hold security clearances.

Congressman Thompson released the following statement on the legislation: “The legislation we are introducing today establishes much-needed reforms within our intelligence infrastructure. Today, the Federal government is on an unsustainable course where too much information is classified – creating barriers to information sharing and driving up Federal spending to safeguard this material and process and oversee 5.1 million of people with security clearances.  The fact that Federal agencies are rushing to establish programs to monitor the activities of employees with security clearances underscores the challenges associated with maintaining this unmanageable system.  The CORRECT Act will begin to stem this tide and put us on a sensible track to right-size our security classification system and keep the country secure.  By fostering a culture within the government that meaningfully addresses over-classification and the over-designation of positions requiring security clearances, we can save taxpayer dollars and promote information sharing and, ultimately, a more open government. I thank my partner in this effort, Senator Wyden, for working with me in this critical endeavor.”

The ballooning volume of classified material now requires more than 5 million people to hold security clearances – an unwieldy arrangement that is both costly, limits legitimate public oversight, and has led to the creation of potentially invasive programs to monitor people who hold security clearances.

Sen. Wyden said: “The federal system for managing national security information has grown too unwieldy to be truly secure, as the past several years have demonstrated. Instead of rushing to create new monitoring programs that could have a chilling effect on legitimate whistleblowers, it is time to reverse the culture of unnecessary classification, reduce the volume of classified documents, and better protect the secrets whose disclosure would truly threaten national security. Rep. Thompson is taking the right approach to bringing some common-sense to this growing problem.”


Background:

An estimated 5.1 million people, more than 1.5 percent of the population of the United States, held security clearances in 2013. The cost to security clearance investigations has increased 79 percent from 2005 to 2011 with a top secret clearance investigation costing a minimum of $4,005.  However, given that only about 60 percent clearance-holders actually access classified information, the Federal Government spends at least $400 million annually to process investigations for 2 million employees that may not need clearances.  Moreover, in 2012, the Government Accountability Office found that, in the absence of Government-wide guidance, the determinations that Federal agencies make about which positions require clearances are sometimes inconsistent or improper, which creates the potential for security risks and excessive and unnecessary Federal expenditures. Overall, the annual cost of maintaining the security classification system across the Federal Government – which is estimated to contain anywhere between 7.5 billion and 1 trillion pages of information – was estimated at $11.63 billion for 2013 and is expected to increase in the near future. 

A fact sheet of the bill can be found here.