Congress to Help First Responders Get the Information They Need
It has gone almost unnoticed that in early February the House of Representatives passed a bill that would solve a problem that has long plagued the state and local first responder community. Sponsored by Rep. Jane Harmon (D-CA), H.R. 553 entitled “Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2009″ would enable the state and local community to get access to critical intelligence even without holding security clearances. As Chair of the Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Intelligence, Rep. Harmon has been told repeatedly the frustrations that the first responder community has experienced in getting access to threat and other information from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a timely fashion
The reason for the problem, as noted in the 9/11 Commission Report has been the routine over-classification of information by the intelligence community. Up until now, the solution has been to provide state and local officials with security clearances, something that has proven to be impractical and unsuccessful. Other efforts to improve intelligence sharing have had limited results.
H.R. 553 begins to address this in a serious manner. It requires DHS to take actions to prevent the over-classification of intelligence, no more than a year after the bill’s enactment. There are, however, limitations to the bill. It does not cover the entirety of the intelligence community, only applying to intelligence in the possession of DHS. That said, it is an important first step and is now awaiting action in the Senate.