Moran, bipartisan contingent offer two bills to reform security classification

Toward striking a balance between transparency and secrecy, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced two bipartisan bills that would modernize the nation’s process for classification, ensure the safety and security of what should be classified, and make the declassification process more efficient.

“We are long overdue for an overhaul that begins with an up-to-date declassification system in order to better secure our national secrets, and it begins with the two bills introduced today,” Sen. Moran said on Wednesday.

The two newly proposed bills are the Classification Reform Act of 2023, S. 1541, and the Sensible Classification Act of 2023, S. 1518, both introduced on May 10.

“In the digital age, our classification system is absorbing a flood of new, critical information,” said Sen. Moran. “When it comes to declassifying documents, our current declassification process costs $18 billion a year and is about as effective as using an eyedropper to drain a flood. These deficiencies undermine our national security, and a backlog of unnecessary classified material is harming our ability to protect what should be secret from our enemies.”

S. 1541 would provide for a system to classify information in the interests of national security and a system to declassify such information, according to the congressional record bill summary. Sen. Moran signed on as one of eight original cosponsors of S. 1541, which is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) is also an original cosponsor.

If enacted, S. 1541 would establish a new system of governance and accountability for the security classification system; ensure that information may only be or remain classified where the harm to national security reasonably expected from disclosure outweighs the public interest, according to a bill summary provided by the lawmakers.

Among several other provisions, S. 1541 also would enforce a maximum 25-year period for classification, allowing only agency heads or the president to extend classification protections beyond that duration; and create financial incentives that effectively “tax” agencies based on how many classified records they generate and use the proceeds to advance technical solutions for declassification, the summary says.

“The government systematically over-classifies too much information, at a dangerous cost to both the nation’s security and the public trust,” said Sen. Warner. “As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I think it is clear that our security classification system is badly in need of change. It’s time for Congress to take action and establish accountability.”

Likewise, S. 1518, which Sen. Moran also cosponsored alongside eight other original cosponsors, including U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Rounds, and Sen. Warner, would improve the classification and declassification of national security information. The bill is sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

“Controlling access to sensitive information enables the U.S. to remain at least one step ahead of its adversaries, but declassification gives us the opportunity to work with our allies around the world and show the American people what their government is doing,” said Sen. Cornyn.

If enacted, S. 1518 would codify classification authority, streamline the processes for declassification, dedicate additional resources to the issue of declassification, invest in new technology to assist with classification reviews, and undertake an evaluation of existing security clearances and their justifications to identify potential areas for additional reforms, according to the lawmakers’ bill summary.