Agencies Told to Report on Decline in Secrecy

After all the speeches about greater openness have been delivered and the news releases about secrecy reform have been filed away, one may ask:  What has actually been accomplished?  How much improper secrecy has been eliminated?  Specific answers to such questions may soon be forthcoming.

The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which is responsible for oversight of the national security classification system, wants agencies to answer those questions when they submit their final reports on the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review in June 2012.  The Fundamental Review was mandated by President Obama’s 2009 executive order 13526 (section 1.9) in order to identify and cancel classification requirements that were obsolete or unnecessary. The Review process is the Obama Administration’s primary response to the widely acknowledged problem of overclassification.

In a memorandum to senior agency officials last month, ISOO Director John P. Fitzpatrick instructed them on how to report the results of each agency’s Fundamental Review, and asked them to explain what practical difference the Review made.

“To the greatest extent possible, the reports should be informative as to how much information that was classified is no longer classified as a result of the review,” Mr. Fitzpatrick wrote.  “The report should also provide the best estimate of how much information that would normally have been classified in the future will now not become classified,” he continued.

The message here is that the Fundamental Review was not supposed to be some merely perfunctory exercise, but was intended to advance a specific policy objective, namely a reduction in the scope of secrecy.

It may succeed, to one degree or another, or it may fail.  In either case, Mr. Fitzpatrick’s reporting requirements should generate useful clarity about the outcome.  See “Reporting Results of Fundamental Classification Guidance Reviews to ISOO,” memorandum to selected senior agency officials, January 23, 2012.

In a January 31 interim status report on the Fundamental Review, the Department of Homeland Security said it had eliminated 2 classification guides out of 22 guides that had been reviewed to date.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it had also retired two guides.