Nuclear Security:

DOE Original Classification Authority Has Been Improperly Delegated

RCED-91-183: Published: Jul 5, 1991. Publicly Released: Aug 15, 1991.

Additional Materials:


Victor S. Rezendes
(202) 512-6082


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Department of Energy's (DOE) use and authorization of contractors to make original classification determinations about national security information.

GAO found that: (1) DOE granted original classification authority on a selective basis, but had granted such authority to persons in senior-level positions at facilities dealing with large volumes of classified information, including government-owned, contractor-operated (GOCO) laboratories; (2) as of May 1991, 142 persons, including over 50 contractor employees, had original classification authority; (3) 14 percent of those authorized contractor employees had top-secret level classification authority; (4) contractor employees made 3 top-secret determinations and 189 secret or confidential determinations between fiscal years 1985 and 1990, while DOE personnel made a total of 3,091 original classification determinations during that period; (5) although an executive order limited classification authority to agency heads and their subordinates, DOE believed that its long-standing unique relationship with GOCO facilities and adequate controls to review determinations justified granting such authority to contractors; (6) the National Security Council recommended that DOE reconsider its authorization policy after identifying such delegations during a 1986 site visit, but did not follow up on the recommendation during its 1988 visit; and (7) DOE did not know the extent to which it reviewed or approved contractor classification determinations. GAO believes that misclassification of information could potentially seriously impact and threaten U.S. national security interests.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective September 1, 1991, DOE revoked all original classification authority delegations made to contractors.

    Recommendation: To comply with the requirements of Executive Order 12356, the Secretary of Energy should immediately revoke the original classification authority for national security information that has been delegated to contractor employees.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE is reviewing all original classification decisions made by contractors over the last 2 years to assess whether additional actions or more extensive reviews are warranted and to assess the damage to national security. All contractor original classification actions were reviewed by DOE personnel. In every case, the correctness of the contractor original classification decision was confirmed.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the nation's security interests are being adequately protected, the Secretary of Energy should identify all original classification decisions that have been made by contractors and independently determine and implement the appropriate classification actions needed in those instances.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »