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STATEMENT OF STEVEN GARFINKEL
DIRECTOR, INFORMATION SECURITY OVERSIGHT OFFICE*
NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION

before the

COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS
UNITED STATES SENATE

March 25, 1998

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I am very pleased to appear before you today to report on our progress in implementing the recently established system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information. On April 17, 1995, the President issued Executive Order 12958, entitled "Classified National Security Information." This Order took effect on October 14, 1995, only two and one-half years ago. While still in its early stages of implementation, the Order clearly attempts to strike an appropriate balance.

On the one hand, it seeks to reduce the permitted level of secrecy within our Government, and to make available to the American people hundreds of millions of pages of historically valuable documents that no longer require protection in the interest of national security. On the other hand, the Order enables us to safeguard the information that we must in order to protect our nation and our citizens.

Already, this new system has achieved some rather remarkable results:

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I can state with total confidence that the United States Government stands far in the forefront among nations in the manner, timing and extent to which it makes available to its citizens and the general public its records of governance, including its formerly classified records. In conversation after conversation that I have had over the years with foreign government officials, and with foreign students, researchers, and journalists, one visitor after another has expressed great admiration for the degree of openness offered by our freedom of information laws, and our security classification system, with its limitations on classification and its emphasis on declassifying information as soon as it is prudent to do so.

These indicators of progress do not mean that we have all the answers about our security classification system or that there aren't tremendous hurdles to clear. For example, the implementation of the new system has been uneven among the major classifying agencies, and a few are only now just getting started; the costs of implementing the system at some agencies are higher than we anticipated; and resource limitations are having a clear impact on agency compliance and oversight. To be sure, the standards and goals established within the new Executive Order are unparalleled. We are not yet certain that every agency, or perhaps any agency, can achieve them. However, only if the targets are difficult can reaching them be noteworthy.

I recognize that the focus of today's hearing is the legislation before the Committee. I will try to answer any questions you may have concerning the similarities and differences between the security classification system that currently exists and the system that S. 712, as currently drafted, would impose. The Administration has serious objections to certain provisions of S. 712, particularly as they could impinge upon the President's authority and flexibility to manage the classification and declassification programs. Legislating in this area can be perilous, given the great deference traditionally given to the President in the areas of national defense and foreign affairs.

However, the Administration is prepared to work with the Congress to address these concerns and to establish an effective National Declassification Center. The Administration will identify the revisions that would be required to enable the Administration to support S. 712.


*The Information Security Oversight Office, or ISOO, is responsible for overseeing Government-wide implementation of the security programs under Executive Order 12958, "Classified National Security Information," and Executive Order 12829, "National Industrial Security Program." ISOO is also responsible for reporting annually to the President on the status of those programs. Created in 1978, ISOO became a component of the National Archives and Records Administration in November 1995. In addition to reporting to the Archivist of the United States, the Director of ISOO receives policy guidance from the National Security Council.

Among its functions, ISOO: (1 ) develops implementing directives and instructions; (2) maintains liaison with all agencies that create or handle classified information; (3) inspects agency programs and reviews their classified records; (4) receives and responds to public complaints, appeals and suggestions; (5) collects and reports to the President and Congress relevant statistical data about the security classification program, including data about its costs; (6) serves as a spokesperson for information about the security classification program; (7) provides program and administrative support for the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel and the Information Security Policy Advisory Council; and (8) recommends policy changes to the President through the National Security Council.




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