May 13, 2023

Kan. Senator seeking overhaul of U.S. document classification system

Posted May 13, 2023 1:00 PM
Biden backing his Corvette into the garage next to stacks of boxes where classified documents were found-image from a 2020 Biden for President campaign ad
Biden backing his Corvette into the garage next to stacks of boxes where classified documents were found-image from a 2020 Biden for President campaign ad

Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran renewed a bipartisan campaign to overhaul the U.S. government’s outdated, expensive system of handling sensitive information to strike a balance between what ought to be withheld and disclosed in the national interest.

Moran, the Republican senator from Kansas, said the federal classification system had to be changed to reduce zealous classification, prevent mishandling of secrets, promote better use of intelligence and enhance public trust. He was among sponsors of a pair of reform bills with U.S. Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.

“We are overclassifying way too much information. We are under-declassifying information that perhaps should not have been classified in the first place,” Moran said. “We are moving this Congress and administration in the direction of a right-sized balance.”

Moran, who has collaborated with Wyden for several years on reform legislation, said the challenge was illustrated by President Donald Trump’s movement of classified material to Florida and the subsequent leak of classified U.S. intelligence allegedly by Jack Teixeira, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard.

‘Drain a flood’

Moran said deficiencies in the classification system made the country “more vulnerable.” The backlog of unnecessary classified material harmed the nation’s ability to shield what should be kept secret from “bad actors,” he said.

“When it comes to declassifying documents, our current declassification process costs $18 billion a year and is about as effective as using an eye dropper to drain a flood,” Moran said.

The bipartisan group of senators introduced the Classification Reform Act of 2023 to limit classification to materials only if harm to national security outweighed the public’s interest in disclosure. The maximum period of classification would be 25 years, but a president or agency head could extend that span.

The bill cosponsored by nine senators, but not U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas, would set minimum standards for insider threat programs in the executive branch. It would require security reviews of presidential and vice presidential records to make certain documents bearing classification markings weren’t improperly categorized as personal records and removed from secure facilities.

‘No longer tenable’

The second measure offered by Moran and eight Senate colleagues, known as the Sensible Classification Act of 2023, would clarify classification authority, streamline the process of declassification and invest in technology to speed classification reviews.

It would authorize an evaluation of existing security clearances to identify potential areas of reform.

“Given the explosion in digital records, the status quo is no longer tenable,” said Warner of Virginia. “We’ve got too many people with access to a system that is devoid of accountability and has grown increasingly byzantine, bureaucratic and outmoded.”

Wyden of Oregon said public access to government information was vital to sustaining a democratic society.

“Yet, as has been the case for many years, far too many records are classified,” he said. “And, because of obsolete technology, far too few of those records ever see the light of day, even after they no longer meet the requirements for classification.”