Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy reports in today’s edition of the electronic newsletter Secrecy News that House-Senate conferees have approved legislation that severely limits the Secretary of Energy’s authority to grant polygraph waivers. The following is an excerpt (emphasis added):
DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL BOOSTS SECRECY
The House-Senate conference completed its compromise version of the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001 on Friday. The bill, which is an astonishing mess from many points of view, includes several provisions that will tend to diminish publish access to government information and drive security policy farther away from a defensible middle ground.
The new bill (H.R. 5408) creates two new statutory exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act. One will exempt certain unclassified foreign government information from disclosure (sec. 1073). Another will expand the exemption for certain unclassified maps and imagery (sec. 1074).
The bill places a severe new limitation on Pentagon spending for all declassification activities (sec. 1075). In place of last year’s limit of $51 million, the new maximum for the coming year will be $30 million. Needless to say, no limitation is imposed on classification-related spending, which reached a total of $5 billion in FY 1999, according to the latest report of the Information Security Oversight Office.
In a step that is positively subversive in its implications, the conferees adopted a provision that allows the Secretary of Energy to grant a waiver from polygraph testing for employees in certain circumstances, but that “would prohibit the Secretary from using the need to maintain the scientific viability of a DOE laboratory as a criteria [sic]” for such exemptions (sec. 3135). In other words, the scientific viability of the DOE labs is now — by law — a lower priority than the DOE polygraph program.
In a rare bit of good news, the conferees did not adopt a controversial provision that would have exempted the “operational files” of the Defense Intelligence Agency from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
The new bill was adopted in conference on October 6 and is expected to be approved in House and Senate floor votes this week. Excerpts from the bill concerning secrecy and security policy are posted here: