Publication Date

February 1, 1994

Perspectives Section


GAO Report Finds Classification System Costs Billions

In response to a request from the House Subcommittee on Information, the General Accounting Office (GAO) recently released the thirty-two-page report, “Classified Information: Costs of Protection are Integrated with Other Security Costs.” While GAO was unable to secure all the information it would have liked, the report confirms that billions of dollars are spent each year on classification. Costs directly attributable to classification for 1992 amounted to only around $350 million, but an additional $6 billion, for instance, was spent by the Department of Defense to protect classified information. Such expenditures include the costs of secure storage containers, background investigations, guards, communications and computer security, and special courier services. Other agencies use similar, if not as extensive, security measures. The GAO report points out that the CIA and other agencies refused to provide cost information, while those that did often lacked the necessary accounting procedures to enable an accurate assessment. The exclusion from this report of substantial costs incurred by the Department of Energy, by hyper-classified special access programs, and by industrial security programs only confirms the fact that the GAO cost estimates are probably quite conservative. An earlier government estimate put the cost of industrial security alone for 1989 at $13.8 billion. Single copies of this report, GAO/NSIAD-94-55, can be obtained without charge by calling the GAO at (202) 512-6000.

Representative Vento Introduces Two Historic Preservation Bills

Shortly before the first session of the 103rd Congress adjourned, Rep. Bruce Vento (D-Minn.), chair of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, introduced both HR 3707, the American Heritage Areas Partnership Program Act, and HR 3710, the National Parks and Conservation Act. HR 3707 authorizes Congress to establish an American Heritage Area following the approval by the Secretary of Interior of a state request for such designation. The legislation then provides for the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement with the state for implementing a management plan. The bill authorizes $3 million annually for evaluation and technical assistance and $10 million annually for matching grants for capital projects. Some in the preservation community have expressed concern over the designation of the Historic Preservation Fund as the source of this money, and interested groups are urging that heritage area funding should not come at the expense of existing programs.

The second bill, HR 3710, designed to protect national parks and historic and natural landmarks, is similar in scope to bills Vento has previously introduced. Title I of HR 3710 would make the director of the National Park Service a presidential appointment, requiring Senate confirmation. Title II mandates a “State of the National Parks Report” to Congress, to include assessment of provisions for research, staffing, and management and conservation plans in the national park system. Title III bolsters the provisions for designating and managing national historic landmarks, calling for the preparation of a list of endangered national historic landmarks, conservation agreements, and planning and conservation grants. All national heritage resources, which include national parks and historic and natural landmarks, receive strong federal protection under Title IV, which prohibits all federal or federally assisted undertakings from damaging a national heritage resource. Enforcement of this provision would be in the hands of the director of the National Park Service, and violators of court orders resulting from a lawsuit would be subject to civil penalties.

Archivist Urges Streamlining of Declassification

In a strongly worded letter to Vice President Albert Gore, acting U.S. Archivist Trudy Huskamp Peterson recently pointed out the need to drastically streamline the federal government’s procedures for declassifying documents. She expressed support for a clause in the Clinton administration’s new draft executive order on declassification that calls for automatic declassification of documents after a specified period of time. Specifically, she stated that “there is virtually no information over thirty years old that requires continued classification. Most documents of this age are so irrelevant to current security concerns that continued withholding seems inappropriate if not laughable.”

Gore Addresses Need for Telecommunications Policy

Speaking to the National Press Club at the end of December, Vice President Albert Gore recommended the removal of judicial and legislative restraints on communications industries, which have delayed the development of a “national information infrastructure” linking all American homes.

Many in the educational and nonprofit sectors have watched with concern the mergers of some of the largest communications companies and are eager for the development of a federal policy that will ensure affordable service to all Americans. Gore promised that the administration will take an active role in stimulating private-sector efforts to build the networks and will likewise advocate policies that would prevent the nation from being divided between “haves” and “have nots” in the information economy.

While some historians are frequent users of Internet, the degree to which historical research in the future will be changed by access to the information superhighway is unclear. There are definite signs that the building blocks for a new communications system are being developed even if there is no blueprint for the final structure. The NCC has joined more than sixty organizations, including the American Library Association and the Association Of Research Libraries, in forming a new coalition, The Telecommunications Policy Roundtable, to ensure that public interest considerations are a part of the debate on the development of new telecommunications policies. The Telecommunications Roundtable has urged that principles such as universal access, a diverse and competitive marketplace, and privacy protection guide the creation of telecommunications policies.

Although several key bills have been introduced to ensure that libraries, schools, and universities have affordable access to the information superhighway, library and scholarly communities are awaiting the introduction in January of the White House’s detailed legislation package on the “national information infrastructure.”

Page Putnam Miller
Page Putnam Miller

University of South Carolina