October 09, 2019

Wyden and Moran to Introduce Bipartisan Declassification Reform Legislation

Bipartisan Bill Will Fight Years of Unnecessary Classification

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., today announced plans to address the expensive, unnecessary backlog to declassify documents that no longer need to be protected by government secrecy.

Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Moran, a senior Appropriations Committee member, are planning to introduce legislation to reform the declassification process in coming weeks.

“Federal agencies are drowning in classified records, and the problem is only getting worse,” Wyden said. “Many of these records are no longer truly sensitive, so classifying them only creates huge costs for taxpayers without doing a thing to protect national security. I’m proud to work with Senator Moran to improve the broken declassification system and help put a dent in this massive backlog of unnecessarily classified records.”

“Classified documents that do not impact our national security and no longer need to be protected are a waste of government resources and taxpayer dollars,” said Sen. Moran. “The current system of maintaining these classified records is outdated and ineffective. This sensible legislation that we plan to introduce would modernize the system to reduce the backlog in processing classified information, cut down on government expense, increase accountability and make the work of our federal agencies more efficient.”

For years, the amount of classified information has exploded while the declassification process lacks the tools to keep up. Classification costs the federal government almost $18.5 billion a year, while the backlog continues to grow. The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), the government entity that monitors classification, recently called classification “a deluge that we expect will continue to grow unabated” and described the current system as “unsustainable.” 

Multiple reports by the ISOO and the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), an advisory body set up by Congress, confirm that government agencies are drowning in a flood of digital secrets without the modern systems and policies needed to ever declassify it. Sustained, high level political attention is absolutely necessary if modern technologies, adequate resources and appropriate policies are applied to this rapidly expanding problem.

The legislation to be introduced by Wyden and Moran grants authority to the director of national intelligence, in consultation with other federal government agencies, to set policies, direct resources and promote technical solutions to address the classification problem. Accountability will be provided through reports to Congress and the public on how the government is addressing the issue. The bill also provides processes for the declassification of topics that are in the public interest or are requested by Congress. Finally, it provides for the permanent authorization of the PIDB.