3.11 Declassification

In general, most documents held at HHS that have a national security classification were originally classified by another department or agency. Decisions and the process for the declassification of this material rest with their originators.

HHS does have original classification authority and has classified a small number of documents. Declassification of documents, due to time or lack of continuing need for protection, is executed via specific and routine review.

Declassification Authority

The authority to declassify information rests in the following officials:

  • The Secretary with respect to all information over which HHS exercises final classification authority;
  • The original classification authority, as designated by the Secretary, a successor of the original classification authority, or a supervisor of either;
  • The official of the originating agency who authorized the original classification;
  • The Director, Office of National Security (ONS), with respect to all classified documents originated by a HHS-predecessor agency and being retained for some official reason, following the coordination with the HHS operating division or staff division that has subject matter interest in the documents.

When there is some doubt concerning the classification of a document, the information must be transmitted for review to the Director, ONS, for review and to an agency with proper subject matter interest and original classification authority -- at which point that the agency will decide to declassify, or extend the initial classification level.

Annual Review

All classified documents in the possession or control of an organization are subject to an annual review conducted by the Classification Security Officer of the organization. This review is conducted to identify documents that require declassification or destruction and must be accomplished prior to the HHS Annual Status Report on Classified National Security Information.

Automatic Declassification

All classified documents will have a maximum classification life of 25 years from the date of its original classification, unless the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office within the NARA has determined that the document may be exempt from automatic declassification.

Mandatory Review Requests for Declassification

Anyone may request a review for declassification of information. These requests are submitted to the Director, ONS, as either a mandatory review request or under the FOIA review process.

If the request is approved, the Director, ONS, must then declassify all HHS-originating information by marking it to reflect the change, authority for and date of declassification. If the requested information cannot be declassified in its entirety, declassified portions that constitute a coherent segment are released, and if the information cannot be released in whole or in part, the action office must provide the reasons for denial. In cases where declassification is denied, in whole or in part, the Director, ONS, in coordination with the HHS FOIA office, must notify the requestor of the final determination and reasons for denial, as well as the right to appeal within 60 working days of the receipt of the denial.

HHS may also require a fee for declassification review requests, which may be appealed if the requested information is not declassified and released in whole.

Information regarding declassification can be found at http://www.hhs.gov/open/plan/opengovernmentplan/transparency/requestsforinfo.html.

Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)
Content last reviewed on February 25, 2019