Moynihan Commission calls for overhaul of secrecy system
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, known as the Moynihan Commission after its chairman Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D-N.Y.), issued its final report in early March calling for a “firm statutory base” for the government classification system.
Government records currently are classified according to executive order. President Clinton issued the most recent order in 1995 with strong language directing agencies to curb excessive classification. However, the commission noted that two million government officials and one million industrial contractors still have the authority to classify information.
The commission proposed a law allowing classification only if there is a “demonstrable need” to protect the information in the interests of national security, with a goal of limiting classification to an “absolute minimum consistent with these interests.”
The President would assign parallel resources to classification and declassification efforts.
In determining whether information should be or remain classified, the government would weigh the benefit from public disclosure against the need for initial or continued classification.
Information would remain classified only for 10 years unless a government agency recertifies the need for classification. All information would be declassified after 30 years unless the agency can show that disclosure would cause demonstrable harm to an individual or a government activity.
The commission’s report also calls for a national Declassification Center to oversee government declassification practices and report to Congress on the status of declassification.
Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), the ranking minority member of the House Committee on International Relations, said at a press conference that he will introduce legislation incorporating these proposals.
Congress established the Moynihan Commission in the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1994 and 1995. (Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, 1997)