Reforming the Classification System: Challenges, Approaches, and Priorities

Co-Sponsored with the ABA’s Standing Committee on Law & National Security

Event Video

Our national security relies on the careful and deliberate creation, dissemination, and protection of classified information.  But some contend that the current system for classifying and declassifying U.S. government records is outdated and imposes significant economic and public policy costs, directly and indirectly harming national security.  Not only do storage and maintenance costs increase as classification levels rise, but with newly classified electronic records growing exponentially, and vast numbers of old records approaching mandatory declassification review, these costs will only increase.  In addition, the costs of decreased efficiency, coordination, and trust and confidence in our national security agencies purportedly undermine our nation’s security and public confidence in the Intelligence Community. 

For more than a decade, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) has called for reform of our classification system.  More recently, leaders across the political spectrum, throughout the Intelligence Community, and in civil society and academia have joined .  The National Security Council’s ongoing review and planned update of Executive Order 13526 governing the declassification process provides an opportunity for thoughtful discussion on challenges, approaches, and priorities for the potential reform of the classification system. 

  •  What are some of the greatest challenges, and opportunities, for reforming the classification system?
  • What programmatic measures can be implemented to incentivize appropriate classification levels at the earliest feasible stage?
  • To what extent can technological measures, such as artificial intelligence applications in classification review, increase efficiency and accuracy in (de)classification procedures? 
  • What administrative or organizational changes might help reform the classification system?  

The event will consist of an initial 30-minute fireside chat with PIDB Chair Ezra Cohen and Vice Chair Alissa Starzak, who will set the stage with a discussion of current challenges, potential approaches and priorities for reforming the existing classification system.  Following that overview, a panel of legal scholars and intelligence community veterans will discuss specific proposals for reform in light of the ongoing review of Executive Order 13526.

Hudson Institute
1201 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC, 20004

Panel 1:

  • Ezra Cohen, Chair, Public Interest Declassification Board
  • Alissa Starzak, Vice President, Global Head of Public Policy, Cloudfare, Inc. 

Panel 2:

  • Alex Joel, In Residence Adjunct, American University Washington School of Law
  • David P. Burns, Partner, Gibson Dunn
  • John Eisenberg, Former Legal Advisor, National Security Counsel; Former Deputy Counsel to the President of the United States
  • Elizabeth Goitein, Senior Director, Liberty & National Security Program, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School
  • Moderator: Carter Burwell, Counsel, Debevoise & Plimpton


As always, the Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker.