Managing Sensitive Information:

Actions Needed to Ensure Recent Changes in DOE Oversight Do Not Weaken an Effective Classification System

GAO-06-785: Published: Jun 30, 2006. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 2006.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Eugene E. Aloise
(202) 512-6870
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

In recent years, the Congress has become increasingly concerned that federal agencies are misclassifying information. Classified information is material containing national defense or foreign policy information determined by the U.S. government to require protection for reasons of national security. GAO was asked to assess the extent to which (1) DOE's training, guidance, and oversight ensure that information is classified and declassified according to established criteria and (2) DOE has found documents to be misclassified.

DOE's Office of Classification's systematic training, comprehensive guidance, and rigorous oversight programs had a largely successful history of ensuring that information was classified and declassified according to established criteria. However, an October 2005 shift in responsibility for classification oversight to the Office of Security Evaluations has created uncertainty about whether a high level of performance in oversight will be sustained. Specifically, prior to this shift, the Office of Classification had performed 34 inspections of classification programs at DOE sites since 2000. These inspections reviewed whether DOE sites complied with agency classification policies and procedures. After the October 2005 shift, however, the pace of this oversight was interrupted as classification oversight activities ceased until February 2006. So far in 2006, one classification oversight report has been completed for two offices at DOE's Pantex Site in Texas, and work on a second report is under way at four offices at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. More oversight inspections evaluating classification activity at eight DOE offices are planned for the remainder of 2006. In addition, according to the Director of the Office of Security Evaluations, the procedures for conducting future oversight are still evolving--including the numbers of sites to be inspected and the depth of analysis to be performed. If the oversight inspections planned for the remainder of 2006 are completed, it will demonstrate resumption in the pace of oversight conducted prior to October 2005. However, if these inspections are not completed, or are not as comprehensive as in the past, the extent and depth of oversight will be diminished and may result in DOE classification activities becoming less reliable and more prone to misclassification. On the basis of reviews of classified documents performed during its 34 oversight inspections, the Office of Classification believes that very few of DOE's documents had been misclassified. The department's review of more than 12,000 documents between 2000 and 2005 uncovered 20 documents that had been misclassified--less than one-sixth of 1 percent. DOE officials believe that its misclassification rate is reasonable given the large volume of documents processed. Most misclassified documents remained classified, just not at the appropriate level or category. Of greater concern are the several documents that should have been classified but mistakenly were not. When mistakenly not classified, such documents may end up in libraries or on DOE Web sites where they could reveal classified information to the public. The only notable shortcomings we identified in these inspections were the inconsistent way the Office of Classification teams selected the classified documents for review and a failure to adequately disclose these procedures in their reports. Inspection teams had unfettered access when selecting documents to review at some sites, but at others they only reviewed documents from collections preselected by site officials. Office of Classification reports do not disclose how documents were selected for review.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Prior to the transfer of classification oversight responsibilities to OSE, the Office of Classification had been inspecting an average of about 10-12 DOE sites a year. Mr. Edmonds states that in calendar year 2006 OSE inspected the classification programs of 15 DOE sights, also inspecting the OUO programs of about half of those sites. In 2007 Mr. Edmonds reports that 16 oversight inspections of DOE classification programs are scheduled. Mr. Edmonds states that the same depth of analysis deployed by the Office of Classification has been retained, and that the inspections are essentially the same. The biggest difference is that the appendix covering classifications issues in the larger OSE report is smaller and more concise.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DOE classification activities remain effective and result in documents that are classified and declassified according to established criteria, the Secretary of Energy should ensure that the classified information oversight program provides oversight to a similar number of DOE sites, as it did before October 2005, and provides a similar depth of analysis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As discussed in Mr. Podonsky's September 14, 2006, letter to GAO, OSE has attempted to obtain a more random selection of documents. Prior to arriving at the site, and as part of the self-assessment, the site provides OSE with the tallies of number and type of classified and controlled documents created since the last oversight inspection. From these numbers the program generates a stratified random sample. Once at the site, OSE inspectors randomly draw a large enough sample of documents from safes in proportion to the number and type of classified and controlled documents created so as to have 95% confidence that 99% of the documents have been classified or controlled, as well as the sample. As time permits, Mr. Edmonds states they will draw a larger sample, which serves to increase the confidence level.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DOE classification activities remain effective and result in documents that are classified and declassified according to established criteria, the Secretary of Energy should strengthen the review of classified documents by applying selection procedures that more randomly identify documents for review.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Reece Edmonds, formerly of the Office of Classification, is in charge of classification oversight in the Office of Security Evaluations (OSE). The classification component of overall security evaluation report is Mr. Edmonds' responsibility. Mr. Edmonds stated that the methodology for selecting documents for review is referred to in the reports' general methodology sections and disclosed and described in more detail in the classification annex.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DOE classification activities remain effective and result in documents that are classified and declassified according to established criteria, the Secretary of Energy should disclose the selection procedures used for documents for review in future classification inspection reports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Nov 18, 2014

Nov 17, 2014

Sep 18, 2014

Sep 16, 2014

Sep 8, 2014

Jul 17, 2014

Jun 25, 2014

May 30, 2014

Apr 17, 2014

Apr 2, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here