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New bill aims to reduce over-classification to cut costs, improve security

A new bill has been introduced by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) that aims to reduce U.S. government over-classification in order to improve information sharing, cut costs, and improve overall national security. The government spends more than $11 billion classifying more than 80 million documents annually.

The bill, the Clearance and Over-Classification Reform and Reduction Act or CORRECT Act, also aims to improve government transparency and improve background investigations for people who hold security clearances.

The ballooning volume of classified material now requires more than five million people to hold security clearances -- an unwieldy arrangement that is both costly, limits legitimate public oversight, and has led to the creation of potentially invasive programs to monitor people who hold security clearances, the Congressmen said.

“The federal system for managing national security information has grown too unwieldy to be truly secure, as the past several years have demonstrated,” said Sen. Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Instead of rushing to create new monitoring programs that could have a chilling effect on legitimate whistleblowers, it is time to reverse the culture of unnecessary classification, reduce the volume of classified documents, and better protect the secrets whose disclosure would truly threaten national security.”

“By fostering a culture within the government that meaningfully addresses over-classification and the over-designation of positions requiring security clearances, we can save taxpayer dollars and promote information sharing and, ultimately, a more open government,” said Rep. Thompson, the Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

The cost of security clearance investigations has increased 79 percent from 2005 to 2011 with a top secret clearance investigation costing a minimum of $4,005. However, given that only about 60 percent of clearance-holders actually access classified information, the Federal Government spends at least $400 million annually to process investigations for two million employees that may not need clearances, the Congressmen said in a statement.

Moreover, in 2012, the Government Accountability Office found that, in the absence of Government-wide guidance, the determinations that Federal agencies make about which positions require clearances are sometimes inconsistent or improper, which creates the potential for security risks and excessive and unnecessary Federal expenditures. Overall, the annual cost of maintaining the security classification system across the Federal Government -- which is estimated to contain anywhere between 7.5 billion and 1 trillion pages of information -- was estimated at $11.63 billion for 2013 and is expected to increase in the near future.

The Act is supported by organizations including the Federation of American Scientists, the American Civil Liberties Union, OpenTheGovernment.Org, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the Security Clearance Lawyers Association.



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