Help Wanted to Oversee the Classification System

03.08.16 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The government is looking for a person to oversee, and perhaps sometimes to overrule, classification decisions made throughout the Executive Branch.

A job opening for the position of Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) was announced in USA Jobs last week.

The ISOO director is appointed by the Archivist of the United States, since ISOO is housed at the National Archives. But ISOO takes policy direction from the National Security Council, and the director’s authority over classification and declassification policy extends throughout the executive branch.  The previous ISOO director, John P. Fitzpatrick, left for the National Security Council in January.

The ISOO director is endowed with some remarkable powers. “If the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office determines that information is classified in violation of this order, the Director may require the information to be declassified by the agency that originated the classification,” according to executive order 13526. Though this power has mostly been held in reserve, it is backed by presidential authority and retains its potency.

The ISOO director is also obliged by executive order to “consider and take action on complaints and suggestions from persons within or outside the Government with respect to the administration of the program established under this order.”

As a result, the ISOO directors have been the most publicly accessible agency heads anywhere in government. Each of them — Mr. Fitzpatrick (2011-15), Jay Bosanko (2008-2011), Bill Leonard (2002-2008), and Steve Garfinkel (1980-2002) — has in his own distinctive way been a dedicated public servant and has willingly engaged with critics, reporters and members of the general public. (The first ISOO director, former congressman Michael Blouin, did not leave much of a visible record in that position.)

But of course, classification policy remains in significant disarray, even within the government, and is a subject of almost daily public controversy. So the position of ISOO director is potentially even more important than ever before, and the next ISOO director could play a leading role in reconciling competing interests in secrecy and disclosure.

Applications for ISOO director are being accepted until March 28. A Top Secret/SCI clearance is needed. Senate confirmation is not.

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