House Panel Investigates Over-Classification of Federal Information

On April 26, 2007, the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment held a hearing to consider the problem of over-classification, and “pseudo-classification,” of government information.

At issue are the federal government’s attempts to standardize procedures for the treatment of what is referred to as “Sensitive But Unclassified” (SBU) information. There are currently 107 different markings for sensitive information that has led to over-classification and a reluctance to disseminate information to state and local law enforcement agencies. In addition, some 280 laws and 150 regulations control the handling of classified information. Ambassador Ted McNamara, Program Manager of the Information Sharing Environment, under the Director of National Intelligence is the official charged with trying to develop a rationalized, standardized and simplified framework for handling SBU information.

In his testimony, McNamara reported that progress was being made through an interagency working group to reach consensus on a new framework. However, any recommendations would still need to be approved by the President. McNamara reported that there was general agreement that the nomenclature SBU needed to be replaced with a new designation called “Controlled Unclassified Information” (CUI). The goal would be to severely limit the number of markings for CUI while still safeguarding the information and encouraging dissemination to other agencies and law enforcement.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) and full committee chair Benny Thompson (D-MS) expressed frustration with the White House that the process was taking so long. Representative Harman asked McNamara if legislation was needed to implement the new framework. McNamara said he could not comment on the need for legislation until the policy recommendations to implement the CUI framework were considered and approved by the president.

Also testifying at the hearing were Dr. Carter Morris, Director of Informational Sharing and Knowledge Management of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Wayne Murphy, Assistant Director of the Directorate of Intelligence at the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Mark Zadra, Assistant Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.