House Homeland Security Panel Clears Bills to Facilitate Declassification

On June 26, 2008, the House Homeland Security Committee passed two 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). DHS would be required to consult with the National Archives and Records Administration to create the CUI standard format. All such unclassified intelligence information that has been designated as CUI would have to be prepared in the new standard format. 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.

H.R. 4806, the “Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2008,” directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop and implement a DHS-wide strategy to prevent the over-classification of information. The bill requires DHS, in consultation with NARA, to create standard classified and unclassified formats for finished intelligence products created by DHS. All finished intelligence products would be simultaneously prepared in the standard unclassified format.