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In turnaround, secrecy costs fell last year

Jun. 25, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy. (Tom Brown / Staff)

The government’s estimated pricetag for keeping secrets fell 14 percent last year to about $9.8 billion, the first such drop since at least 1996, according to the latest annual report from the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration.

The security classification cost report pulls together data from 42 executive branch agencies, broken out over nine separate categories. The bulk of last year’s reduction came in the cost of protecting and maintaining classified information systems, which plunged 29 percent from $5.65 billion to about $4 billion. The report attributes most of the decrease to agencies’ doing a better job of distinguishing the cost of protecting classified systems from unclassified systems.

Although that suggests “improved accounting” underlay the drop, secrecy expert Steven Aftergood said, he added that costs also fell for personnel security and most of the other seven categories.

“The fact is that there is a downward trend and that’s welcome news,” said Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

One exception was the expense of security management, oversight and planning, which rose 13 percent last year to $1.7 billion. The extra money was needed for compliance surveys and other needs, the report said.

Since the mid-1990s, the yearly reported total has never before dropped, according to the report. The increases were particularly sharp in 2010 and 2011, when costs jumped almost 30 percent during the two-year period.

As in the past, the latest report’s figures do not include data from the CIA, National Security Agency and four other intelligence agencies. Those numbers are classified. If added in, they would add about 20 percent — or approximately $2 billion — to the governmentwide figure, according to the report.

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