WHAT'S NEW, Friday, 22 December 1989 Washington, DC

An appropriations bill signed by the President on 3 Nov 89 included a specific prohibition against use of the Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement, Standard Form 312. In signing the bill, however, the President questioned the constitutionality of the provision, arguing that it impeded his responsibility to protect classified information. Steven Garfinkel, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), thereupon issued an order to continue using SF 312, in defiance of the restriction imposed by Congress. In a Congressional hearing on Wednesday, Garfinkel demonstrated his mastery of nondisclosure by refusing to reveal the names of Bush Administration officials with whom he consulted before issuing the order. The unusual recess hearing was called by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), who questioned the constitutional authority of the Executive Branch to flout a law that had been passed by Congress and signed by the President.

The disagreement between Congress and the Executive Branch over nondisclosure agreements goes back more than six years. President Reagan, infuriated over Administration leaks, issued his infamous National Security Decision Directive 84, calling for, among other things, expanded use of secrecy pledges. But one person's leak is another person's act of conscience, and Congress saw the pledges as an unconstitutional attempt to discourage whistle-blowers. The President seemed to back off, but a new nondisclosure agreement, SF 189, was issued in 1987 which even applied to "classifiable" information; that could include almost anything. Congess barred further use of SF 189 in 1988, but three million had already been signed. It is replaced with SF 312, which dropped "classifiable," but substituted the phrase "unclassified information that meets the standards for classification." Congress didn't like that much better, particularly since potential whistle-blowers also agree to ask an "authorized official" whether unclassified information they want to reveal might be classified someday. That brought on the current constitutional debate, which seems headed for the courts. Some individuals are reportedly refusing to sign SF 312.

The Science, Space and Technology Committee of the House has asked the NSF to provide a report by 31 Jan 90, describing how the directorates set their priorities, and how allocations are made between directorates. NSF is also asked to describe the efforts it makes to solicit the views of such groups as scientific societies. The Committee warns that in the hard times to come NSF will confront tough choices. Congress now requires NSF to submit three-year budget estimates, but the SS&T Committee complains that, "Unfortunately, the initial submission contains no evidence of a prioritization process. The rates of funding increase for individual scientific directorates are essentially identical." Actually, the NSF budget process is simple, Erich Bloch decides.

Bob Park can be reached via email at whatsnew@bobpark.org
Opinions are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the University, but they should be.