Classified Information:

Volume Could Be Reduced by Changing Retention Policy

NSIAD-93-127: Published: May 24, 1993. Publicly Released: Jun 10, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed government agencies' classification of national security information, focusing on: (1) the reasons for retaining large volumes of classified documents; and (2) whether documents contained classification errors and agencies adhered to classification policies and procedures.

GAO found that: (1) the federal government has maintained large volumes of classified material because document declassification has been unnecessarily delayed and automatic declassification is viewed as inadequate; (2) a 1982 executive order exempted federal agencies from automatic document declassification requirements by allowing agencies to use the Originating Agency's Determination Required (OADR) document designation; (3) OADR has delayed document declassification by up to 30 years and contributed to the large classified document inventory because OADR classifiers are not required to supply declassification dates; (4) the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) believes the OADR designation is overused and often unwarranted, since its systematic declassification reviews showed that nearly 90 percent of the documents could have been fully or partially declassified; (5) the delays in declassification reviews are a result of the large document inventory and backlog and the limited staff resources available; (6) in 1992, 3 percent of the classified documents contained marking errors and unwarranted classifications and 12.5 percent were questionably classified; (7) information is overclassified because individual classifiers are inadequately trained and are not given sufficient criteria to make classification decisions; and (8) Department of State documents are routinely overclassified because classifiers fail to designate which portions of the documents contain classified material.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The President signed Executive Order 12958 on April 17, 1995, "Classified National Security Information", directing automatic declassification 10 years after the date of original classification.

    Recommendation: The Director, ISOO, in coordination with the National Security Council, should determine a maximum period of time for automatic declassification and initiate action to revise the executive order governing national security information.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: National Security Council

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The President signed Executive Order 12958 on April 17, 1995, "Classified National Security Information", directing automatic declassification 10 years after the date of original classification.

    Recommendation: The Director, ISOO, in coordination with the National Security Council, should determine a maximum period of time for automatic declassification and initiate action to revise the executive order governing national security information.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: Office of Information Security Oversight

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The President signed Executive Order 12958 on April 17, 1995, "Classified National Security Information". It does not permit use of undefined declassification designators.

    Recommendation: The Director, ISOO, in coordination with the National Security Council, should revise the executive order governing national security information to eliminate authorization for the use of undefined declassification designators such as OADR.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: National Security Council

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The President signed Executive Order 12958 on April 17, 1995, "Classified National Security Information". It does not permit use of undefined declassification designators.

    Recommendation: The Director, ISOO, in coordination with the National Security Council, should revise the executive order governing national security information to eliminate authorization for the use of undefined declassification designators such as OADR.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: Office of Information Security Oversight

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The President signed Executive Order 12958 on April 17, 1995, "Classified National Security Information". It directs declassification 10 years after the date of original classification unless specifically exempted.

    Recommendation: The Director, ISOO, in coordination with the National Security Council, should revise the executive order governing national security information to require agencies to automatically declassify national security information without review on a specific date or event, or no later than the maximum period of time after origination as determined by ISOO.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: National Security Council

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The President signed Executive Order 12958 on April 17, 1995, "Classified National Security Information". It directs declassification 10 years after the date of original classification unless specifically exempted.

    Recommendation: The Director, ISOO, in coordination with the National Security Council, should revise the executive order governing national security information to require agencies to automatically declassify national security information without review on a specific date or event, or no later than the maximum period of time after origination as determined by ISOO.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: Office of Information Security Oversight

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The President signed Executive Order 12958 on April 17, 1995, "Classified National Security Information". It identifies classes of information that may be exempted from declassification at 10 years.

    Recommendation: The Director, ISOO, in coordination with the National Security Council, should revise the executive order governing national security information to establish classes of information that can be exempted from automatic declassification and require agency heads to submit notice to ISOO when such exemptions are invoked.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: National Security Council

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The President signed Executive Order 12958 on April 17, 1995, "Classified National Security Information". It identifies classes of information that may be exempted from declassification at 10 years.

    Recommendation: The Director, ISOO, in coordination with the National Security Council, should revise the executive order governing national security information to establish classes of information that can be exempted from automatic declassification and require agency heads to submit notice to ISOO when such exemptions are invoked.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: Office of Information Security Oversight

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The President signed Executive Order 12958 on April 17, 1995, "Classified National Security Information". It does not require agency heads to submit written justification for classifying new material beyond the 10-year limit. However, it does require agency heads to notify the President of exemptions to automatic declassification of material that is 25 years or more old.

    Recommendation: The Director, ISOO, in coordination with the National Security Council, should revise the executive order governing national security information to require agency heads to submit written justification for extending classification beyond the maximum period, if deemed appropriate, for any of those categories of information not initially exempted.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: National Security Council

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The President signed Executive Order 12958 on April 17, 1995, "Classified National Security Information". It does not require agency heads to submit written justification for classifying new material beyond the 10-year limit. However, it does require agency heads to notify the President of exemptions to automatic declassification of material that is 25 years or more old.

    Recommendation: The Director, ISOO, in coordination with the National Security Council, should revise the executive order governing national security information to require agency heads to submit written justification for extending classification beyond the maximum period, if deemed appropriate, for any of those categories of information not initially exempted.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: Office of Information Security Oversight

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The President signed Executive Order 12958 on April 17, 1995, "Classified National Security Information". It requires portion marking of classified documents and permits ISOO to issue waivers in accordance with standards prescribed in directives published under this Order.

    Recommendation: The Director, ISOO, subject to the approval of the National Security Council, should initiate action to revise the executive order to require that agencies obtain authorization from ISOO before invoking waivers to the portion marking requirement.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: Office of Information Security Oversight

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During processing of the GAO report, the Department of State revised the Foreign Affairs Manual with respect to the portion-marking waiver. As stated in the report, the revision (dated February 27, 1993), lists no exemptions to its portion-marking waiver. The Department's response to the congressional committees cites the FAM revision and states that authority to invoke waivers to the portion-marking requirements should remain with the agency head, rather than ISOO, as GAO recommended. The State Department also commented that it would not object to GAO's other recommendations, provided that sufficient authority rests in the agency head to designate exempt classes of information when deemed necessary.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should require that the Department's classifying officials apply its current waiver only to internal documents as authorized.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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