The topic of classification, and specifically, overclassification, has been debated for about as long as the government has been harboring secrets and having to determine which are critical to national security – and hence need to be protected – and in which cases it is merely protecting itself.
The problem hasn’t gone unnoticed by senior officials, with Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying, “In many cases, in the department, we’re just so overclassified it’s ridiculous, just unbelievably ridiculous.”
Hyten noted the Pentagon is looking at how to make the classification system better, with the blessing of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, according to remarks made at an Air Force Association event reported by Defense News.
Hyten also described a briefing held when we was the commander of U.S. Strategic Command. The content was deemed to sensitive even the 3-star deputies weren’t allowed into the room.
When “the only people in the room are four-stars, you really can’t get any work done,” said Hyten.
Making Progress on Overclassification
Overclassification isn’t just a Pentagon problem. In 2010 congress signed the Reducing Over-classification Act, a piece of legislation designed to improve the problem of classification procedures across all branches of government. One key problem? The legislation didn’t define what ‘overclassification’ was. So, much like before the legislation, agencies are largely on their own to determine what information needs to be classified, and at what level.
Hyten offered practical examples of what overclassification can do, however – even preventing the key players from entering the room.
The push against overclassification comes as the U.S. government continues to consider how to better share information with industry. Government leaders continue to promote the importance of their relationship with industry, but the ability to share information between government agencies and key industry players – on everything from security risks to personnel issues – remains an issue. The good news? The path to better information won’t necessarily take legislation, but simply improved policy or directives from agency heads.