WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new draft executive order to decrease the federal government’s storehouse of classified records and to proscribe future overclassification of records was circulated in late January by the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO).
The Clinton administration promised early on to issue a new executive order to replace the order issued in 1981 by President Reagan which is still in effect, which encourages classification of national security information and makes declassification difficult. ISOO had issued an earlier draft but revised it after receiving criticism both from public interest groups seeking greater access and from government agencies.
ISOO Director Steven Garfinkel said the major accomplishment of this new draft would be that, for the first time, government agencies would find it more burdensome to keep records classified than to declassify them. The order would require agencies either to justify continued classification of records or to declassify them.
Garfinkel also said that the tone of the new draft emphasizes a commitment to the principles of open government in the preamble and throughout provides enforcement mechanisms to realize that commitment.
ISOO distributed handouts showing that by contrast the Reagan order emphasizes the need to protect classified information and makes all classification decisions mandatory rather than permissive. A still earlier executive order on classification issued by President Carter articulated a commitment to open government but did not provide the enforcement mechanisms in this draft, the handouts showed.
Garfinkel said that the draft, if adopted, will mean that, with the passage of time, less and less classified information will exist.
In a major departure from the Reagan order, and in a return to the direction of the order issued by former President Carter, the draft would prohibit reclassification of records that already have been made public.
Like the Carter order, the draft would also require declassification of information when the public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in the continued protection of the information. The Reagan order does not require a balancing of interests.
The draft would require automatic declassification of 25-year- old information unless that information falls within seven narrow exceptions. Earlier orders merely required that agencies systematically review historically valuable records for declassification after 30 years (Reagan order) or 20 years (Carter order).
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