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HHS Has Made Progress in Properly Classifying Documents; However, New Issues Should be Addressed


Classification is an important tool that allows the Federal government to protect information that might damage national security; however, over-classification may pose risks to national security, too. Over-classification may prevent Federal agencies from sharing information internally and with other agencies, potentially hindering efforts to identify possible risks to national security. The use of portion markings may reduce over-classification by permitting access to those portions of a classified document that are less sensitive than the overall document classification. The Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2010 requires Federal agencies to decrease over-classification.


We assessed the progress of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in implementing the remaining open recommendation from OIG's May 2013 reports. To do this, we reviewed two sets of documents: the seven documents OIG identified in our previous report that did not include the required portion markings, and a newly selected sample of 51 classified documents we assessed to determine whether they were classified in accordance with requirements.


In May 2013, HHS OIG published two reports on the Department's classification program. The reports contained four recommendations. Three of the recommendations were implemented prior to the current review; the fourth recommendation was implemented as a result of the current review.

In our current review we found that until August 2016, HHS had not taken appropriate action to address required portion markings for all of the previously reviewed documents, as OIG had recommended in May 2013. Our review of a newly selected sample of classified documents found that the one document originally classified in FY 2015 did not include the reason for classification or the position of the individual who classified the document. Additionally, 28 percent of the derivatively classified documents from a newly selected sample did not include the position of the person who classified the documents.


To address the issues OIG identified in this current review, we recommend that OSSI, working on behalf of the Office of the Secretary, (1) apply the reason for classification and position of the classifier to the reviewed originally classified document, and (2) reiterate training on required classifier identification to individuals who classify information. OSSI concurred with the first recommendation and stated that prior training fully covered the second recommendation.