Members of Congress don’t go through the same background investigation process as you or me. The process of election is considered a public seal of access. When you elect a candidate into office – be it Congress or the Presidency – you in some sense grant them access to the classified information required for the position.
According to the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence: “There are no written rules, agreed to by both branches, governing what intelligence will be shared with the Hill or how it will be handled. The current system is entirely the product of experience, shaped by the needs and concerns of both branches over the last 20 years.”
Classification Policy Through the Years
Both the executive and legislative branches of government have oversight of classification. Executive Order 13526 addresses the system for classifying, declassifying and safeguarding information. A similar executive order was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, and updated by President George W. Bush and finally President Barack Obama. Each president over the past two decades, then, has left his own seal on the rules regarding classification. Each has pushed to declassify more information and reform classification procedures.
‘I Do Solemnly Swear…’
House members are required to take a secrecy oath. And just like clearance holders, members of congress are only to hold access to information or access that’s absolutely necessary. When a presidential candidate, political party nominee or Member of Congress is granted access to classified information, it’s on a need-to-know basis.
Over the years, critics have argued for a more traditional background investigation process for elected officials. Efforts have been fought by opponents who argue a background investigation process would compromise the independence of legislators. With security clearance topics and scandals continually in the news, controversy over politicians and security clearances is likely to continue.