H.R. 553: Reducing Over-Classification Act

H.R. 553

Reducing Over-Classification Act

Sponsor
Rep. Yvette D. Clarke

Date
February 3, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

H.R. 553 is being considered on the floor under suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage. This legislation was introduced by Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) on January 15, 2009.

Bill Summary

H.R. 553 creates an Over-Classification Prevention Program within DHS. The Secretary of Homeland Security will develop policies and programs to prevent the over-classification of homeland security, terrorism, and WMD information that must be disseminated to prevent and respond to acts of terrorism.

This bill requires the DHS Inspector General to maintain an auditing mechanism to assess whether these policies are being complied with and to recommend improvements to the system. The Secretary must additionally institute a series of penalties for employees and contractors who repeatedly fail to comply with the over-classification prevention procedures.

H.R. 553 directs the Secretary to develop a program by which the classification activities of DHS employees and contractors with classification authority can be monitored to ensure compliance with the prescribed regulations. The Secretary must also train and educate Department employees and contractors about proper classification procedures and the consequences of over-classification.

The Secretary must implement a DHS detailee program to detail personnel to the National Archives and Records Administration for one year, for the purpose of training and teaching Archives personnel so that they may better understand the policies, procedures and laws governing original classification authorities.

 

Background

An identical bill to this legislation (HR 4806) passed the House by voice vote on July 30, 2008, but was never taken up by the Senate.

Among its recommendations in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, the 9/11 Commission found a need to eliminate the over-classification of intelligence information by the federal government.  The Commissioners found in their report that pseudo- and over-classification may interfere with the sharing of critical intelligence information between the federal government and State, local, and tribal partners regarding homeland security efforts.

According to the Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives, the number of new classification actions almost doubled from eight million in 2001 to 14 million in 2005.  During this same period, the quantity of declassified pages dropped from 100 million in 2001 to 29 million in 2005.  Some agencies were additionally found to be withdrawing archived records from public access and reclassifying them.

 

Cost

There is no Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cost estimate for this bill. However, CBO predicted that identical legislation considered last year would cost less than $500,000 annually, assuming the appropriation of the funds.