February 26, 1997
Dear Mr. Chairman:
The Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, Report 104-679, requested that the Department of Energy include an analysis of its declassification efforts with the fiscal year 1998 budget submission. The Committee report expressed concerns that the Department is focusing its efforts on declassifying older documents while continuing to classify new documents at three times the rate that documents are declassified.
The enclosed analysis addresses the Committee's concerns about the Department's declassification efforts. The analysis explains that the emphasis on the declassification of older documents stems from the requirements of Executive Order 12958, as well as public requests. As indicated on the enclosed chart, this analysis also confirms that we are declassifying documents at a faster rate than we are classifying them.
We are committed to openness in Government and maximum public access to information. This policy permits us to concentrate our security resources to better protect information that must remain classified in the interest of national security.
If you have further questions, please call me or have a member of your staff contact Mr. Kenneth Baker, Acting Director, Office of Nonproliferation and National Security, at 202-586-0645.
Charles B. Curtis
The Honorable Vic Fazio
Ranking Minority Member
The Department of Energy (DOE) is committed to providing the maximum amount of information to the American public consistent with the national security and nuclear nonproliferation interests of the Nation. To that end, we have endeavored to change the culture of classification within the Department to reflect the current world conditions and domestic objectives. This analysis explores the various methods by which the Department is effecting its culture change.
FUNDAMENTAL CLASSIFICATION POLICY REVIEW
The DOE utilizes an information-based classification system in which the Department's information classification policies are contained in numerous documents called classification guides. These guides contain detailed instructions as to whether information is classified. Individual document classification and declassification decisions are based on the information policies contained in these guides. The Department recognized that to significantly decrease the number of classified documents, the number of classified information areas would have to be reduced and the classification guides would have to be revised to reflect these changes.
As a first step in this process, the Department initiated the Fundamental Classification Policy Review, a year-long study conducted by interagency experts in relevant areas of technology and policy. The stated objective of the study was to determine which information still warrants protection under current world conditions and which no longer requires protection and should, therefore, be made available to the public. This study, which advocates placing high fences around information that has been more narrowly defined as substantially and directly relating to the national security, has culminated in a draft report now undergoing interagency review. Depending on the level of interagency agreement and implementation resulting from the review, the areas of classified nuclear information could be reduced by over 20 percent. Once fundamental changes are made to classification policy and the classification guides are revised to disseminate this new policy, the number of documents classified each year should decrease significantly, depending upon the workload of the nuclear weapons complex. In addition, security costs will be lowered by reducing the number of classified documents which require protection.
Although the Fundamental Classification Policy Review is the largest undertaking of its kind, it is not the Department's only initiative to declassify areas of information. The Department and its predecessor organizations have had a mechanism in place for over 50 years, predating the Atomic Energy Act and Executive order requirements, to ensure that information no longer warranting protection is declassified. This mechanism, in the form of a panel of experts in their respective fields, was formed in 1946 in response to an avalanche of requests from scientists and contractors to declassify their wartime research and development in atomic energy. The fruit of their efforts, the "Declassification Guide for Responsible Reviewers," was the first declassification guide for nuclear energy ever completed. The successor of this panel, now called the Technical Evaluation Panel, biennially evaluates proposals from throughout the Department to declassify areas of classified information.
The Department and its predecessors have constructed declassification activities over the past 50 years and the results of this long-standing effort are described in a publicly available document entitled "Restricted Data Declassification Decisions, 1946 to the Present," RDD-3, dated Januay 1, 1996 (see Tab A). However, as a result of DOE's Openness Initiative, our efforts have accelerated and gained more attention recently. In fact, the largest declassification of information in the history of the Department and its predecessors was announced on December 7, 1993 (see Tab B), which included revelations of 20 percent more Nevada nuclear tests than were previously announced, U.S. production of weapon-grade plutonium, plutonium inventories at field sites, and the quantity of mercury used at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Three additional major information declassifications were announced on June 27, 1994, February 6, 1996 and January 15, 1997.
By releasing this information, we have encouraged an informed public debate on important topics such as plutonium management (including safety, security, and storage) and have sought to promote Government accountability and public trust in Government. Furthermore, these declassifications were of paramount importance to assist the cleanup of the Department field sites and significantly reduce the cost of those cleanup efforts (e.g., the mercury cleanup at Oak Ridge). In addition, these declassifications provided the foundation which enabled the United States to identify the weapon-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium that is excess to national security needs and to take actions for its disposition, as well as to foster similar actions with Russia for disposition of their weapon materials inventories. It is noteworthy that, following the Department's recent declassification initiative, the Russians have released a large quantity of information on their nuclear testing activities, test by test, as well as the approximate size of their weapons grade plutonium and uranium stockpile. It is clear from the format and content of the Russian document that they sought to match, if not to exceed, the information declassified and released by the United States concerning the U.S. nuclear weapons testing program.
During Fiscal Year (FY) 1996, the Department reviewed approximately 6.2 million pages in classified collections, of which 3.5 million pages were declassified or confirmed to be unclassified. We have focused on the declassification of older documents in response to national mandates and the public's priorities.
The Department must comply with Executive Order 12958, "Classified National Security Information," effective October 1995, which requires declassification of documents 25 years old or older of permanent historical value as designated by the U.S. Archivist.
Executive Order 12958 specifies annual requirements for declassification of. permanently historically valuable documents containing National Security Information. It does not apply to Restricted Data. However, in surveys conducted shortly after Executive Order 12958 was issued, the Department found that Restricted Data is, in many cases, embedded in documents marked as containing only National Security Information. Such documents are likely to be presumed to be subject to Executive Order automatic declassification requirements even though they are not. Therefore, every document subject to the Executive Order 12958 declassification requirements must be reviewed to ensure that any embedded Restricted Data is not inadvertently released. A requirement for the Department to review all such documents for Restricted Data was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 1996, Public Law 104-106.
Even with our responsibilities to review for declassification documents containing Restricted Data, the Department not only met, but exceeded the newly imposed FY 1996 declassification targets required in Executive Order 12958 for National Security Information. In support of this effort the Department reviewed 2.5 million pages in classified National Security Information collections. This review resulted in the declassification of collections containing over 1.9 million pages.
Given the Committee's concern about the numbers of pages redacted, it may be of interest that the DOE believes the future of document reviews lies with automation. The process by which documents are reviewed now involves a complicated process of reading, identifying and redacting classified information by skilled experts. The Department believes that when such reviews involve many millions of pages of documents, automation is the only way to significantly increase the efficiency of expert reviewers by automatically identifying potentially classified information while concomitantly maintaining quality standards consistent with the highest national security and nonproliferation practices. This involves a technically challenging effort to develop several prototype linguistic and intelligence based tools that could mimic what the human does when reviewing documents for classified information. DOE is working with other agencies in a joint effort to establish the best methods to achieve these goals. Eventually, the Office of Declassification intends to put the unclassified output from this system into its Internet OpenNet site, where thousands of visitors search for documents declassified by the DOE.
CONTINUING DOCUMENT CLASSIFICATION
Under the Atomic Energy Act; the Department must continue to classify certain documents relating to its ongoing mission areas. Congress has told us the number is of concern to it. However, we must assure that only documents that are truly sensitive are classified. We cannot restrict our goal to minimizing the number of new documents classified, but must do so consistent with U.S. national security and nuclear nonproliferation objectives.
The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee expressed concerns in House Report 104-679 that the Department is classifying documents at a rate three times faster than we are declassifying. The current trend of classifying new documents, however, is downward. The Department classified over 1.9 million pages in FY 1992. In FY 1996 this number was two-thirds less, approximately 610,000 pages. It should be noted that previously, the Department incorrectly reported that over 1.6 million and 1.4 million pages were classified in FY 1994 and FY 1995, respectively. However, we have since determined that due to inadvertent double counting the actual number of documents classified in FY 1994 and FY 1995 was only 1.1 million pages and 930,000 pages respectively. These figures are based on an estimate of 10 pages per document. For the third year in a row, the Department's old documents are being declassified faster than new classified documents are being created (see Tab C).
The generation of new documents is a measure of overall program activity. Budgets for programs to develop nonnuclear methods ensure the reliability and safety of the nuclear weapons arsenal were increased in FY 1997 by the Energy and Water Appropriations Act. Therefore, the increase of activities in these programs may increase the quantity of newly classified material in FY 1997.
The Department of Energy made great strides in the declassification of documents in recent years providing the public with the information it desires, as well as meeting national declassification requirements. However, declassification progress will be reduced in FY 1997 because of funding constraints. Although we have made tremendous progress with declassification efforts over the past several years, the Department still has an estimated backlog of 280 million pages, which requires FY 1998 funding at the requested level to meet program requirements and the needs of the public.