Classification Reform Bill Introduced in House

12.20.07 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Speaking of classification reform, Rep. Jane Harman and 13 Democratic colleagues this week introduced “The Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2007.”

The legislation focuses on the Department of Homeland Security and aims to make the Department a model of judicious information policy by curtailing classification and other restrictions on disclosure.

“The goal is simple: make the Department of Homeland Security the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to preventing over-classification and to limiting the use of sensitive but unclassified markings,” Rep. Harman said in a news release.

“DHS is an excellent place to start and — if it gets a handle on its own burgeoning over- and pseudo-classification addiction– can become a ‘best practices’ center and the test bed for the rest of the Federal Government,” she said.

The legislation’s incremental approach has much to recommend it, though some of the details of the proposed strategy are questionable, obscure or remain to be determined.

It is probably unworkable, for example, to insist on “allow[ing] the classification of documents only after unclassified, shareable versions of intelligence have been produced.” Some classified intelligence documents will have no unclassified counterpart, though the use of unclassified “tear sheets” should be encouraged whenever possible.

Other proposed steps, such as establishment of “an independent Department declassification review board to expedite the declassification of documents,” could help create new impetus for disclosure.