House Panel Passes Bills to Facilitate Declassification

On June 11, 2008, the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information, and Terrorism Risk Assessment passed a series of bills designed to facilitate public access to unclassified records. One of the bills (H.R. 6193) is designed to implement and expand upon the Bush administration’s directive on the use of “Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI).”

The White House recently released a new policy attempting to standardize procedures for the treatment of what is referred to as “Sensitive But Unclassified” (SBU) information. The memorandum issued by the president adopts, defines and institutes “Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI)” as the new standard for the treatment of such information. There are currently over 100 different markings for sensitive information that has led to over-classification. The new CUI policy would reduce that to three categories.

H.R. 6193, the “Improving Public Access to Documents Act of 2008,” would create a standard format for unclassified intelligence products created by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS Inspector General would have the authority to randomly select CUI documents to ensure compliance with the new directives. DHS employees would be empowered to challenge the use of CUI markings. DHS would also maintain a publicly available list of documents designated or marked as CUI.

H.R. 4806, the “Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2007,” directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop and implement a DHS-wide strategy to prevent the over-classification of information. The bill also requires that information created by DHS be initially prepared in unclassified form before any version is created in classified form. In making decisions on declassification, DHS would be directed to make a presumption that the material in question should be declassified absent evidence to the contrary.

Immediately prior to the markup, a hearing was held on H.R. 6193. Meredith Fuchs, General Counsel of the National Security Archive, and Patrice McDermott, Executive Director or, testified.