GAO report sees risk in classification system
The Justice Department’s classificationprogram,whichdetermines what information could reasonably beexpectedtodamagethecountry’s national security if disclosed publicly, is at risk because of a lack of adequate staffing, according to a government report.
In a 50-page report on Nov. 21, the Government Accountability Office said the department’s classification-management program needs to assess its “optimum” manpower requirements, develop a strategy to meet them, and then implement internal controls “to ensure proper use of sensitive but unclassified designations.”
“The September 11 attacks showed that agencies must balance the need to protect and share sensitiveinformationtopreventfutureattacks,” the report says. “Agencies classify this information or desig- nate it sensitive but unclassified to protect and limit access to it.”
But,accordingtotheGAO,thedepartmentisatriskbecauseithasnot addressed the problem of insufficient staffing to effectively manage and oversee the program, noting it has one staff member to cover departmentwide training issues and three staffers to oversee 3,500 locations under the program.
“According to the program manager, with these resources, the security office was reacting to classificationissuesthataroseratherthan beingproactivetopreventthem,”the GAO said.
Staffing increases for the Justice Department program were recommended by the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office, which reviewed security proceduresinJuly2004andApril2005. GAO was asked this year to see how well the department and the FBI had responded to the request.
The GAO said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales should determinewhatstaffingheneedstocarry out the responsibilities of the department’s classification-managementprogramanddeviseastrategy to make those resources available and use them effectively.
Justice Department officials, accordingtotheGAOreport,saidit“is trying to address its resources constraints, a long-standing problem thatGAOidentifiedasearlyas1993, byrequestingadditionalfundsfrom an administrative account in fiscal year 2007.”
TheGAOnotedthatallrecordsof a permanent historical value older than 25 years that contain classified national security information automatically will be declassified on Dec. 31, and each year thereafter, and“maybeavailableforpublicdisclosure, unless an agency head or senior agency official determines that these records fall within an exemption that permits continued classification.”