May 14, 2020

Wyden, Moran Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Reform Broken Declassification System

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

“Keeping records classified without good reason is a huge waste of taxpayer money and resources to secure documents that don’t actually affect national security,” Wyden said. “Our bill will save money and start to chip away at the huge backlog of documents that remain classified for no good reason.”

“There is widespread recognition that the government’s ability to keep up with the amount of classified information is outdated,” said Sen. Moran. “Modernizing the tools required to declassify information is crucial to the public interest. This legislation would empower that modernization, and promote government transparency and fiscal responsibility.”

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 bill 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.

A copy of the bill text is available here.