The High Cost of Secrecy to American Taxpayers

Tuesday, July 03, 2012
The federal government is becoming increasingly secretive, every year classifying more and more information as out of bounds for ordinary American citizens, yet charging us billions to keep its secrets from us. According to the recently released 2011 Cost Report by the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration, government secrecy efforts cost $11.4 billion in 2011 alone, up $1.2 billion (12%) from 2010, and nearly two-and-a-half times more than ten years before, when the government spent $4.7 billion.
Another $1.2 billion was spent protecting information held by private contractors. And the total does not include the figures for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Security Agency (NSA) because their budgets are…classified.
The 2011 ISOO Report to the President shows that there were 92,064,862 decisions to classify information in fiscal year 2011, a 20% increase over 2010, which itself saw a 40% jump from 2009. These numbers cannot be taken literally, however, because agencies have changed how they count classification decisions over the years; yet the statistics nonetheless indicate substantial growth. A big part of this runaway secrecy spending is likely over-classification, as some officials lack the time to make a careful decision, fear criticism if they mistakenly disclose sensitive information, want to enhance their own or their agency’s status or “turf,” or try to hide evidence of wrongdoing or incompetence.
The growth in secrecy classification during the Obama years is ironic, because the President promised to run a more transparent government, and in December 2009 amended the executive order governing classification to strengthen training requirements, ban indefinite classification, and advise officials not to classify material as secret when there is doubt.
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More:
Financial Costs of Classification Soar (by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News)
Secrets and More (Government) Secrets (by Liza Goitein, Brennan Center for Justice)


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