Thursday, July 31, 2008

HR 4806 Status Update 7-24-08

At the same time that the Homeland Security Committee completed their work on HR 6193 (see: “HR 6193 Status Update 7-28-08”) they also finished up their report on HR 4806, the Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2007. The amended legislation and the accompanying report (House Report 110-776) are both now available through the Library of Congress web site.


While the amended version of the HR 6193 was a series of minor revisions for the most part, the amended version of HR 4806 is a complete rewrite. This makes my earlier review (see: “HR 4806 – Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2007”) less useful as a starting point for understanding the revised bill. Fortunately, Rep Harmon, the chair of the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment, patterned the revised bill after HR 6193 so my earlier analysis (see: Analysis - Improving Public Access to Documents Act of 2008”) of that bill is worth reviewing.


Sharing Intelligence Data


The stated goal of this is to reduce the amountof needlessly or inappropriately classified data. What is probably more important is that it aims to increase the sharing of intelligence information. This may mean that a single provision in the bill {Section 210F(b)(2)} is the most important part of the legislation;


  • “(2) require that all finished intelligence products created by the Department be simultaneously prepared in the standard unclassified format, provided that such an unclassified product would reasonably be expected to be of any benefit to a State, local, tribal or territorial government, law enforcement agency or other emergency response provider, or the private sector, based on input provided by the Interagency Threat Assessment and Coordination Group Detail established under section 210D;”

In many cases a sanitized version of an intelligence report can be produced that will provide useable information to the front line operators in ‘war on terror’. The intent of this section is to require the intelligence agencies within the department to produce this cleaned up intelligence product.


Affect on CFATS


While HR 6193 might have an impact on the release of CVI material, this legislation will have no obvious near-term impact on operations at high-risk chemical facilities. The rules envisioned in this bill will only affect the more formal document classification system used by the Federal Government, not chemical-terrorism vulnerability information.


The long term impact could be an increased flow of usable intelligence information to security managers. This could help to increase the facility’s ability to manage its security program in a more efficient manner. Security procedures could be adjusted and modified as the threat profile changed.


Waxman Deal


One of the items buried in the committee report on both of these bills is a deal that Chairman Thompson has made with Rep. Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The deal resolves a potential territorial dispute between the two committees.


Arguably these two bills should also have been reviewed by Waxman’s committee since they deal with the reform of how classified/sensitive material is being handled at DHS. In fact, Waxman has his own bill in the works (HR 6575) that deals with similar issues for the government as a whole.


To avoid having the DHS bills having to be delayed by their transit through the hearing/report process at Oversight and Government Reform, Thompson struck a formal deal with Waxman. The deal would give Waxman right to name representatives to any conference committee serving these bills. Waxman also gets support from Thompson to get HR 6575 moved to the floor for consideration at the same time as HR 6193 and HR 4906.


This is a perfectly legitimate and above board deal made by two committee chairman. It is too bad that a similar deal could not have been made between Thompson and Dingell on HR 5577. This could have allowed a floor debate on the relative merits of HR 5577 and HR 5533 as the means for extending the DHS authority to regulate high-risk chemical facilities.

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