Keeping secrets is going to cost the government more than $2.74 billion this year, about what it costs to pay and operate Congress.
While more than 90 percent of that money is spent by the Pentagon, even the Marine Mammal Commission will expend $1,000 protecting classified documents.And the total cost to taxpayers could be more than double the amount spent inside government agencies, because the taxpayers reimburse private industry for the cost of keeping secret records of its government contract work. The best estimate of that cost is due out in a week or so.
The estimate for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 represents a slight increase over the $2.71 billion spent in fiscal 1995 as agencies begin a major declassification effort ordered by President Clinton last year.
"In the short-term, costs will rise somewhat as agencies review more documents for declassification" under the presidential order which took effect last Oct. 14, Steven Garfinkel, director of the Information Security Oversight Office, said in an interview Monday. "In the end, the order should cut the costs significantly by reducing the volume of classified documents dramatically."
In a report to Congress, Garfinkel put the fiscal 1996 cost of keeping secret documents at $2,741,987,125.
Garfinkel said the first realistic estimate of industry secrecy costs, to be released soon, would be considerably below the $13.8 billion estimated in the late 1980s, which Garfinkel called "just a guess."
Steven Aftergood, head of the government secrecy project of the American Federation of Scientists, a private group that lobbies to reduce secrecy, said the industry total would probably be at least equal to and perhaps larger than the government total. "And industry is reimbursed for that cost by the taxpayers," Aftergood said.
"You would not know looking at these government secrecy costs that the Cold War has ended," he added.
The cost estimate covers deciding which records should be classified and how secret they should be, providing physical security in the buildings that house them, vetting the workers that handle them, training government workers in secrecy procedures and managing the system.
As always, the Pentagon dominated the total with estimated costs of $2.526 billion. But secrecy extends into some unlikely agencies, such as the Marine Mammal Commission.
"Marine mammals have nothing to do with national security, but relations with foreign governments do," Garfinkel said.
He explained that the commission gets documents from foreign governments that want the information in them kept secret.