Interviews with the PIDB: Michael Lawrence

Prior to his appointment to the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), Michael Lawrence held senior executive leadership positions in the Intelligence Community (IC) throughout his career of 20+ years.

Mr. Lawrence would like to see the PIDB focus on three areas. First, he would like the PIDB to expand its focus to include a greater emphasis on advancing long-term objectives, as well as the work required to achieve the wide variety of its day-to-day activities. For example, Mr. Lawrence would like to see implemented the recommendations the PIDB presented in its 2020 report, A Vision for the Digital Age.

Second, regarding funding, Mr. Lawrence would like the PIDB to once again receive discrete appropriations for its operations. Public Law (PL)106-567, known as the Public Interest Declassification Act of 2000, which created the PIDB, sets out the board’s funding. Under PL 106-567, in fiscal year 2001, the PIDB was allocated $650,000 and “for each fiscal year after fiscal year 2001, such sums as may be necessary for such fiscal year.” Although the President submits the PIDB budget to Congress for each fiscal year, it has been many years since the PIDB received its own appropriation. Instead, funding for board operations has come from the budget of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Third, Mr. Lawrence wants to focus on the sustainability of appointments to the PIDB. There should be complete continuity on the board. Currently, when the term ends for an appointment, that position may remain vacant until the President, House, or Senate fill that position. Mr. Lawrence would like some type of statutory language stating that appointees will remain in position until a new appointment gets made. This would eliminate the possibility of simultaneous vacancies that could make the PIDB inoperative without a quorum.  

Mr. Lawrence believes these priorities can be achieved by working with the office of the Director of National Intelligence. Possible avenues for success include issuing press releases, speaking to members of Congress, and writing articles to highlight the importance of classification and declassification.

In addition to these priorities, Mr. Lawrence considers over-classification a critical problem. Like many others in the Intelligence Community (IC), he is concerned about putting national security and collected intelligence at risk of disclosure. The downside is that too often the default is to classify information at a higher level than necessary—that is, over-classification. The deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) for the more precise classification of intelligence, as well as training for the new generation of IC employees, should help to address the problem of over-classification.

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