Cornyn, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Reform Security Classification System
Legislation Would Streamline Declassification While Modernizing the Classification System & Reviewing Existing Security Clearances
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Mark Warner (D-VA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Angus King (I-ME), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) today introduced the bipartisan Sensible Classification Act of 2023, which would increase accountability and oversight of the classification system, limit overclassification, and direct federal agencies to justify security clearance requirements:
“Controlling access to sensitive information enables the U.S. to remain at least one step ahead of its adversaries, but declassification gives us the opportunity to work with our allies around the world and show the American people what their government is doing,” said Sen. Cornyn. “This bill would modernize the process for classification, ensure the safety and security of what should be classified, and make the declassification process more efficient as we seek to strike the delicate balance between transparency and secrecy.”
“The government systematically overclassifies too much information, at a dangerous cost to both the nation’s security and the public trust. At the same time, we too often fail to protect the nation’s most important secrets. As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I think it is clear that our security classification system is badly in need of change,” said Sen. Warner. “Given the explosion in digital records, the status quo is no longer tenable. We’ve got too many people with access to a system that is devoid of accountability and has grown increasingly byzantine, bureaucratic, and outmoded. We need to protect our national security secrets, and then declassify those secrets when protections are no longer necessary. It’s time for Congress to take action and establish accountability.”
“Improving our broken classification system will reduce costs, eliminate years of backlog and create a more efficient system,” said Sen. Moran. “The current system costs Americans $18 billion a year and denies transparency of government activities. We are also so overwhelmed protecting outdated documents that we have failed to meet the basic purpose of our classification system – protect classified information from bad actors. This legislation provides sensible solutions that will bring us closer to fixing the problem before it becomes impossible to manage and improves our national security.”
“Public access to government information is vital to a democratic society,” said Sen. Wyden. “Yet, as has been the case for many years, far too many records are classified. And, because of obsolete technology, far too few of those records ever see the light of day, even after they no longer meet the requirements for classification. One necessary step in addressing this crisis is to put someone in charge of modernizing the system so that records are tracked and then declassified and released when appropriate. This legislation accomplishes that goal by designating the DNI as the Executive Agent for Classification and Declassification, a reform that Senator Moran and I have been pushing for years. It is also critical that the rules that govern declassification of records be updated and strengthened and that the entities responsible for oversight of the system be empowered.”
“Protecting our national security is of paramount importance, and this bill will ensure that that our classification system safeguards both the public’s access to information and properly aligns the classification levels to the critical intelligence that does indeed need protection,” said Sen. Collins.
“We have an overclassification problem, a declassification problem, and – as we’ve clearly seen over the last few weeks – an access to information problem,” said Sen. King. “The Sensible Classification Act of 2023 will spell out what information merits a classification, how long the classification lasts, and who is permitted access to that classified information. With an everchanging landscape of technology and threats, it’s an important step to promote public trust and keep Americans safe.”
“We place our national security at risk by adhering to a classification system rooted in the Cold War,” said Sen. Rounds. “This bill takes meaningful steps to modernize our classification system, which will result in more rapid decision-making, greater agility, and improved situational awareness for those who defend our country from 21st century threats.”
“We need a new, centralized way to manage our classification and declassification systems, for the sake of national security, public transparency, and accountability,” said Sen. Heinrich. “As we’ve seen, the stakes of inaction are high, which is why I am proud to join two bipartisan and complementary bills that will modernize how we classify and safeguard sensitive materials, more efficiently manage our declassification system, and help to rebuild trust between the government and the American people.”
The legislation is also cosponsored by Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Bob Casey (D-PA).
The classification system is in urgent need of reform. Technology has made it easier to classify files, but greater accountability and oversight is needed to ensure appropriate and timely declassification to rebuild trust between the government and the American people. Too many people have access to classified information, which contributes to rampant overclassification and lack of accountability.
The Sensible Classification Act of 2023 will codify classification authority, streamline the processes for declassification, direct training focused on sensible classification, invest in new technology to modernize the classification system, and direct a review regarding the necessity of existing security clearances to identify potential areas for additional reforms. Introduced in tandem with Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Warner’s Classification Reform Act, this legislation:
- Codifies classification authority as the President, Vice President, head of an agency, or the individual to whom such authority has been delegated in line with current practice pursuant to Executive Order 13526 and specifies how the authority is delegated and the training required to receive it;
- Promotes efficient declassification for records under the Freedom of Information Act or Mandatory Declassification Review;
- Requires training to promote sensible classification;
- Improves the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) by allowing for additional staff to be hired and allowing members to serve until a successor is appointed;
- Directs the federal government to develop a federated and integrated technology solution to the issue of classification and declassification;
- And directs federal agencies to conduct a study on the necessity of number and types of security clearances with sufficient justification.