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Congressional Access to Classified National Security Information

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Abstract:

Congress must have access to information about executive branch activities if it is to carry out its constitutional responsibilities to make laws, appropriate funds, conduct oversight, and confirm agency officials. While few would question the need to safeguard national security information from improper public disclosures that would damage the national interest, the executive branch has repeatedly claimed the authority to withhold such information from Congress as well.

Proponents of expansive presidential power claim that classified national security information “belongs” to the executive branch and is shared with Congress only as a matter of grace. The executive branch has regularly resisted congressional requests for classified information. But such resistance has intensified since 2001 with the Bush administration’s claim of unprecedented presidential powers to act alone or in contravention of congressional enactments.

Congress has been left in the dark on many matters. The following is a brief outline of Congress’ powers to obtain information required to conduct the vigorous oversight and wise lawmaking necessary to assure the efficient and lawful functioning of the government.