Congress suspends President’s declassification order
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The linchpin of the administration’s Executive Order on Classification, an automatic declassification program for most records more than 25 years old, has been suspended in the National Defense Authorization Act for 1999.
The act, signed in mid-October, requires the Secretary of Energy and the National Archivist to develop a plan to prevent inadvertent release of records containing “restricted data” or “formerly restricted data,” nuclear weapons information protected by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.
That information already is excepted from declassification by the Executive Order, but sponsors of the measure feared that the information might be released accidentally during accelerated declassification efforts.
Until 60 days after the plan is in effect with funding and resources, automatic declassification is replaced by a page-by-page review, according to the act.
In signing the measure, President Clinton expressed disappointment that Congress included the “overly broad provision that impedes my Administration’s work to declassify historically valuable records.”
He vowed to have the plan in place within 90 days and to interpret the provision to “ensure maximum continuity of agency efforts . . . to declassify historically valuable records.”
The requirement for a plan represents a compromise measure. A bill introduced last summer by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who led the effort to suspend declassification, would have required “visual inspection” of every page of permanent records prior to declassification, to ensure that no nuclear weapons information would be released.
“Vehemently” opposing that measure, National Archivist John Carlin wrote the Office of Management and Budget in mid-July that Kyl’s proposal would “completely nullify E.O. 12958 and place a tremendous declassification review resource burden on all agencies.”
It would “be more retrogressive than has ever been practiced since declassification efforts began in earnest in 1972,” Carlin wrote, noting “no evidence” that declassification has had any effect on the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Carlin also noted that most classified records contain no restricted data and that searching all of them for possibly misfiled documents would waste time. (H.R. 3161)