VP’s Office is Exempt From Executive Order on Classified Information

The Office of the Vice President is not an “agency” for purposes of Executive Order (EO) 12958 on security classification. Therefore its classification and declassification activity no longer need be reported to the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), the Justice Department finally informed ISOO Director Bill Leonard in a newly disclosed letter.

The President’s intention is that the Office of Vice President should not be considered an “agency” for purposes of oversight, Steven G. Bradbury of the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel wrote to Mr. Leonard on July 20, 2007 on behalf of the Attorney General. Bradbury cited a letter to that effect from White House counsel Fred Fielding as definitive on the interpretation.

Thus ends a saga that began back in 2006 when the Office of the Vice President (OVP) refused to comply with ISOO’s inspection and reporting requirements on the grounds that they did not fall within the definition of “agency” as set forth in the EO. The EO sets up a system for classifying, safeguarding and declassifying national security information. One of ISOO’s main functions is to oversee the security classification programs in federal agencies and to ensure compliance with its standards through inspections of federal agency records and procedures.

At the time, the Office of Vice President asserted that it was not an “entity within the executive branch” and thus exempt from having to report its security classification activities to ISOO. The OVP initially claimed that it was not an executive branch entity since the Vice President also had legislative responsibilities as the President of the Senate.

In 2006, the ISOO sent two separate letters to the Office of the Vice President requesting that they comply with EO and allow ISOO access to their records, and both were ignored.

In January 2007, the ISOO then sent a letter to then-Attorney General Gonzales requesting his interpretation as to whether the Vice President’s Office was subject to the reporting requirements of the executive order, and no response was forthcoming until now.

In June, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, accused Vice President Dick Cheney of seeking to abolish the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) allegedly in retaliation for the ISOO’s attempts to force his office to comply with the EO.

Thank you to Steven Aftergood of the Progress on American Secrecy of the Federation of American Scientists for allowing the use of some of the material in this story.

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