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Public Statements

Over-Classification Reduction Act

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Location: Washington, DC


OVER-CLASSIFICATION REDUCTION ACT -- (House of Representatives - September 09, 2008)

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Mr. DAVIS of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, an old military maxim instructs, ``He who protects everything protects nothing.'' For too long, that instruction has been ignored in this country with regards to our classified secrets.

When facing direct threats, it is always easy to assume the best thing to do is to conceal, protect and hide information. The problem is, as the old military maxim said, that could be the exact worst thing to do.

The 9/11 Commission put it this way: ``Current security requirements nurture overclassification and excessive compartmentation [sic] of information among agencies. Each agency's incentive structure opposes sharing, with risks, criminal, civil, and internal administrative sanctions, but few rewards for sharing information. No one has to pay the long-term costs of over-classifying information, though these costs--even in literal financial terms--are substantial.''

The result is the United States for a long time has tried to protect a huge body of secrets using an incomprehensibly complex system of classifications and safeguard requirements.

Worse still, this body of secrets is growing. And no one can say--with any degree of certainty--how much information is classified, how much needs to be declassified or whether the Nation's real secrets can be adequately protected in a system so bloated it often does not distinguish between the critically important and the merely embarrassing.

Our classification practices have been highly subjective, inconsistent and susceptible to abuse. Over-classification often confuses national security with bureaucratic, political or diplomatic convenience.

With this legislation, we intend to reduce improper and over-classification--and, consequently, increasing government-wide information sharing and the availability of information to the public.

We accomplish this by instructing the Archivist to promulgate regulations which will standardize decisions on the classification of documents.

The legislation also establishes systems for challenging whether information ought to be classified and instructs agency IGs to randomly audit classified information to assess whether proper classification decisions are being made.

Finally, this legislation creates a record--attached to each classified document--stating who made the decision to classify it.

The current system of organizational silos restricts the free flow of information from agency to agency. This reduces the Nation's overall security by making sure no one gets to view the entire mosaic.

Today, ``connecting the dots'' must be a ``team sport'' and this legislation presents a government-wide solution to protect what must be protected--but requires sharing of what ought to be shared.

Mr. Speaker, our future safety depends on moving from a ``need to know'' culture to a ``need to share'' culture.

This legislation will help us reach that goal and I urge my colleagues to support it.

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