Former PIDB Executive Secretary Calls for Legislation to Modernize Government Classification

In Congressional testimony on March 23, 2022, former executive secretary of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) and director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) (2012-2016) John Fitzpatrick called for legislation that would mandate the designation of “a single, responsible official” by the president to lead reform of the classification system through the implementation of “emerging and maturing technologies” across the federal government. His call for a coordinating official designated by the president to lead a government-wide modernization initiative strongly echoed recommendations submitted in the PIDB’s 2020 report: A Vision for the Digital Age: Modernization of the U.S. National Security Classification and Declassification System. 

Speaking before a full committee hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) of the US House of Representatives, Mr. Fitzpatrick underscored the need for a  “statutorily-directed and administration-led reform effort.” He said that the reform initiative should coordinate investments in federal information technology prioritized by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) with the National Security Council (NSC), whose role is to convene federal departments and agencies to develop and implement new policies that align with national security.

Mr. Fitzpatrick further emphasized the need to advance significant classification reform by strengthening ISOO’s role, and by building on ISOO’s established subject matter expertise and working relationships with executive branch classification/declassification organizations, through:

  • “Active sponsorship” and “utilization” by the NSC, OMB, and a single official designated by the President under statutory mandate.
  • “Rightsizing and empowering ISOO and its Director” by increasing their resources and independence within NARA and across the executive branch.
  • Retaining ISOO’s independence and administration of both the PIDB and the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), with the demonstrated staff expertise to continue as “a fair and neutral arbiter” in conducting mandatory declassification reviews.
  • Designating the ISOO Director to co-lead the development of a technology investment strategy with the OMB and the Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer.

HSGAC Chair Gary C. Peters (D-MI) and ranking member Rand Paul (R-KY) opened the hearing with statements on “Modernizing the Government Classification System.” In addition to Mr. Fitzpatrick, the hearing received testimony from Elizabeth Goitein, Senior Director of the Liberty and National Security Program of the Brennan Center for Justice; Thomas Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University; and Cato Institute Senior Fellow Patrick G. Eddington. The video of the hearing, and statements submitted by Representatives Peters and Paul, as well as Ms. Goitein and Messrs. Blanton, Eddington, and Fitzpatrick, are available on the hearings webpage of the HSGAC.

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