A Department of Defense instruction issued on Friday reinforces the policy that the DoD Office of Inspector General (OIG) is to have full access to all records, including classified records, that it needs to perform its function, and that no DoD official other than the Secretary himself may block such access.
“The OIG must have expeditious and unrestricted access to all records…, regardless of classification, medium (e.g. paper, electronic) or format (e.g., digitized images, data) and information available to or within any DoD Component, and be able to obtain copies of all records and information as required for its official use once appropriate security clearances and access are substantiated for the OIG DoD personnel involved,” the instruction states. See “Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense Access to Records and Information,” DoD Instruction 7050.03, March 22, 2013.
By stressing that the Inspector General’s access is independent of a record’s classification, medium or format, this language elaborates and bolsters the text of a previous version of the instruction, which did not make those distinctions.
Furthermore, the new instruction specifies, “No officer, employee, contractor, or Service member of any DoD Component may deny the OIG DoD access to records.” Only the Secretary of Defense may invoke a statutory exemption to limit IG access to certain intelligence, counterintelligence, or other sensitive matters, which he must then justify in a report to Congress.
As a result of these robust access provisions, the DoD Inspector General is well-positioned to conduct internal oversight not only of the Pentagon’s extensive classified programs, but also of the classification system itself, particularly since the Department of Defense is the most prolific classifier in the U.S. government.
In fact, the Inspector General of each executive branch agency that classifies national security information is now required by the Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2010 to evaluate the agency’s classification program. Each Inspector General was directed “to identify policies, procedures, rules, regulations, or management practices that may be contributing to persistent misclassification of material.”
The first evaluation is due to be completed by September 30, 2013. Vexingly, the Act did not provide a functional definition of “over-classification” or “misclassification.” Therefore, the first hurdle that the IG evaluations must overcome is to determine the nature and the parameters of the problem of over-classification.