House Passes Bill to Reduce “Over-Classification” of Information

This week, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 553, the “Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2009,” which directs the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop and implement a DHS-wide strategy to prevent the over-classification of information. It is identical to a bill that passed the House last session, but was not considered in the Senate.

The bill requires DHS, in consultation with the National Archives and Records Administration, to create standard classified and unclassified formats for finished intelligence products created by DHS. All finished intelligence products would be simultaneously prepared in the standard unclassified format.

The bill also directs the Secretary of DHS to establish an ongoing auditing mechanism to randomly select classified information from each DHS component to assess whether applicable classification regulations have been followed, describe any problems with their administration, and recommend improvements in awareness and training to address the problems identified

A process would be established allowing employees to challenge original classification decisions and be rewarded for successful challenges resulting in the removal or downgrading of classification markings. Employees and contractors that fail to comply could be subject to a series of penalties.