By Barbara DePompa
, 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media
As the government's efforts in improving information sharing have demonstrated, challenges remain in getting everyone in government to accept and move forward with actual information sharing initiatives.
This is why, for example, the president called for the declassification of government information on the day after his swearing in. On January 21, 2009, the President signed the Presidential Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, and the Presidential Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act, instructing all members of his administration to operate under principles of openness, transparency and of engaging citizens with their government.
And this is also why the recently reintroduced HR553 bill has been referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, after being previously approved by the House of Representatives. Sponsored by Congresswoman Jane Harmon, D-Ca., the HR553 bill was reintroduced because so many law enforcement officials still find it difficult to get accurate, actionable and timely information about threats and tactics to police officers in the field. “Though hard to believe, sheriffs and police chiefs can't readily access the information they need to prevent or disrupt a potential terrorist attack because those at the federal level resist sharing information. Over-classification and pseudo-classification – stamping with any number of sensitive but unclassified markings – remain rampant,” Harmon explained.
While protecting sources is often required, classifying information for the wrong reasons - to protect turf or to avoid embarrassment - is wrong, Harmon asserted in her explanation of the bill, which requires that all classified intelligence products created at the DHS be simultaneously created in a standard unclassified format. Furthermore, the bill requires portion marking – the identification of paragraphs in a document that are classified – permitting the remainder of the document to remain unclassified.
The measure is designed to promote accountability by requiring the DHS Inspector General to sample randomly classified intelligence products and identify problems that exist in those samples. It also directs the Secretary to develop a plan to track electronically how and where information classified by DHS is disseminated so that misuse can be prevented. Finally, the legislation requires the Secretary to establish extensive annual training on the proper use of the classification regime, and penalties for staff who repeatedly fail to comply with applicable classification policies.