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Project on Government Oversight

Letter Urging Funding for Public Interest Declassification Board

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April 29, 2005

Attention: National Security Legislative Assistant
House Appropriations Committee
H-218 Capitol Building
Washington, DC 20515


House Appropriations Committee:

It has come to our attention that, as first reported by Secrecy News, Congress has not appropriated funds for the Public Interest Declassification Board (the "Board") this year, and no money requested for the coming year.  As a result, the Board has no funding and thus cannot operate.  We, the undersigned bi-partisan public interest organizations, request that the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (i.e. the National Security Advisor) issue guidance to Congress on the funding needed to support the Board (as mandated by the 2001 Intelligence Authorization Act) and that Congress appropriate sufficient funding for adequate operation of the Board for fiscal year 2006. This letter is also being sent to President George W. Bush, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, Senator Trent Lott, Senator Ron Wyden, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Board is important because it would help identify documents that truly should or should not be classified.  In addition to its legislative creation in the 2001 Intelligence Authorization Act (title VII of Public Law 106-567), the need for an independent declassification board to enhance national security was affirmed by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which extended the Board's mandate for an additional four years.  Originally set to expire at the end of 2004, the Board now is authorized until 2008.

As the 9/11 Commission Report and national security experts have concluded, the current classification system has led to weak information sharing between agencies involved in homeland security, and to the improper classification of documents that should be made public.  Last summer, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Counterintelligence and Security Carol Haave testified before Congress that about 50% of classified documents should not be classified.  In Fall 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that, because of over-classification, "access [is] more difficult than was the case even at the height of the Cold War."  Too much secrecy hinders the operation of the government and hides problems that often need public disclosure to be remedied. Secrecy often hides government waste, fraud and abuse. Furthermore, unless there is a compelling need for secrecy, the government should operate transparently so that the public can hold the government accountable for its activities.

Secrecy is expensive, too.  Although the numbers have not yet been released for FY 2004, in FY 2003 the cost of protecting classified information was $6.5 billion (up from $4.7 billion in FY 2001, reflecting the increased classification).  Because of excessive classification, billions are wasted on protecting wrongly classified information.  The Board would help change this currently unaccountable and wasteful government culture of secrecy.

Although the Board was initially authorized in FY 2001, no members were named until September 2004, when President Bush named five members to the nine-person Board.  In February, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi named one member and in March, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist another.  Two slots remain to be filled, one each by the Speaker of the House and the Senate Minority Leader.  We urge Congress to fill out the ranks of the Board's membership.  However, even if the Board's final two members are not named, the Board could operate with its current membership of seven, if it were funded, as only five members are needed to constitute a quorum.  Funding is needed for the required security clearance reviews for Board members, Board member compensation, and staff support.

According to William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office, the explanation for this year's lack of funding is timing.  The Board was originally set to expire at the end of 2004, so no funding need was anticipated for FY 2005.  The need for funding changed when the Intelligence Reform legislation passed in December 2004 which revived the Board for four more years.  Yet even though the Board's mandate has been legislatively renewed, money has not been appropriated for 2006.  We urge Congress to fund the Board so it can begin its important work.

A working Public Interest Declassification Board will help alleviate the problems of over-classification.  It will allow for crucial independent review of agency decisions and balanced consideration of the need for secrecy to protect national security in relation to the public interest.  However, funding the Board is only a stepping stone to establishing a balance between secrecy and openness in government.  For the Board to become fully effective, it should be given independent authority to declassify documents and be augmented by critical and diligent Congressional oversight.

We hope you take our concerns into consideration and fund the Public Interest Declassification Board in a manner sufficient for its operation for fiscal year 2006.

Sincerely,

Danielle Brian
Executive Director, Project On Government Oversight

Rick Blum
Director, Freedom of Information Project, OMB Watch
Director, OpenTheGovernment.org

Thomas Fitton
President, Judicial Watch

Paul Gessing
Director of Government Affairs, National Taxpayers Union

William Doyle
Outreach director and Board Member, World Trade Center United Family group
Board Member and Treasurer, 9/11 Families for a Secure America
Board Member, Coalition of 9/11 Families
Co-Plaintiff and Outreach Director, 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism

Tom Devine
Legal Director, Government Accountability Project

Charles N. Davis, Ph.D.
Associate Professor & Executive Director, Freedom of Information Center,
University of Missouri School of Journalism

Michael Mariotte
Executive Director, Nuclear Information and Resource Service

Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries

Terry Francke
General Counsel, Californians Aware

Lynne Bradley
Director, Office of Government Relations, American Library Association

Meredith Fuchs
General Counsel, National Security Archive

Laura W. Murphy
Director, Washington Legislative Office, American Civil Liberties Union

Lucy Dalglish
Executive Director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Edward Hammond
Director, The Sunshine Project 

Conrad Martin
Executive Director, Fund for Constitutional Government

April D. Gallop
President and CEO, 9-11 Elisha Zion Foundation
Board Member, 9-11 Families for Secure America

Thomas E. Natan, Jr.
Research Director, National Environmental Trust

Colleen Kelly
Co-Director, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows


Cc: President Bush
National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley
Senate Appropriations Committee
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Hon. Trent Lott, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
Hon. Ron Wyden, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

 

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