Cheney Accused of Seeking to Abolish Security Oversight Office

In a letter released on June 21, 2007, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee accused Vice President Dick Cheney of seeking to abolish the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) at the National Archives. The Vice President’s action was allegedly in retaliation for the ISOO’s attempts to force his office to comply with reporting requirements dealing with national security classification under Executive Order (EO) 12958.

EO 12958 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. In 2006, 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 EO 12958. 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.

In 2006, the ISOO sent two separate letters to the Office of the Vice President requesting that they comply with the executive order and allow ISOO access to their records, and both were ignored. In January 2007, the ISOO then sent a letter to Attorney General Gonzales requesting his interpretation as to whether the Vice President’s Office was an “agency” and subject to the reporting requirements of the executive order, and no response was forthcoming.

According to the Waxman letter to Cheney, Executive Order 12958 is currently being revised. ISOO Director J. William Leonard told the Oversight Committee that during the inter-agency review of the proposed changes, the Office of the Vice President sought to abolish the ISOO, and also to amend the EO to include a provision exempting the OVP from oversight. Leonard stated that the inter-agency review group had rejected the OVP’s recommendations.

Waxman’s committee requested that the OVP give responses to a series of questions concerning its dealings with the ISOO by July 12. Neither the White House nor the OVP has responsed to the Oversight Committee’s allegations.