On Friday, June 20, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) held a congressional briefing on the Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System, which offered fourteen key recommendations on how to reform the security classification system to better reflect the digital age. The need for increased transparency and improved public access to declassified information is greater than ever, and we would like to thank Senators Jim Risch and Jeanne Shaheen for sponsoring the event as well as all congressional staff who attended. Our visit to the Hill underscores the unique partnership between the PIDB and Congress, and we look forward to closer collaboration in the future.
After an overview of the history and work of the PIDB by our Executive Secretary John Fitzpatrick, our board members outlined the reasons for fundamental framework reform. Our 70-year-old classification and declassification systems are antiquated and unsuited to processing large quantities of electronic information; in addition, present policies are heavily skewed toward classification – while classification system costs have nearly tripled since 2000, there is relatively little funding for declassification. These practices highlight the government’s tendency to over-classify and reinforce the public’s lack of confidence in the existing systems to adequately protect their right to information. President Obama recently committed to implementing many of the Board’s proposals through his Second Open Government National Action Plan.
The PIDB thanks Congress for its continued backing of the PIDB’s work and appreciates the bipartisan bills aiming for reauthorization of the PIDB. Vice Chair Congressman David Skaggs in particular highlighted Congress’s role and stake in furthering the mission of the PIDB – congressional oversight, he noted, is crucial to upholding government accountability, and the declassification of Executive Branch records considerably aids Congress’s ability to provide checks and balances. Congressman Skaggs also discussed the possibility of subjecting congressional committee records for formal declassification review; these collections are invaluable in providing insight to Congress’s oversight and legislative contributions. In closing, we would like to emphasize that the PIDB – a hybrid of Presidential and congressional appointees – is fundamentally nonpartisan in nature; its purpose is to serve the public interest and our democracy. Having just celebrated the 238th anniversary of America’s birth, it is vital that we bear in mind the core principle upon which our nation was founded- a government instituted by the people, for the people. We at the PIDB remain committed to working with Congress and the Executive Branch to uphold this vision.