Bills To Clarify Federal Classification Policies Clear House Panel

On July 23, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee cleared two bills designed to standardize and minimize the use of information control designations by the federal government on information that is not classified (H.R. 6576) and to prevent the over-classification of federal information (H.R. 6575).

In May, the White House 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.

According to the sponsor of H.R. 6576, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, the White House’s policy is limited to “terrorism-related information,” and his bill is designed to address all types of information across the government. H.R. 6576 directs the Archivist of the United States to consult with federal agencies and to promulgate regulations to develop and implement new information control designations.

H.R. 6575, directs the Archivist to promulgate regulations to prevent the over-classification of information. The Archivist is charged with clarifying when classified products should be prepared in a standard format and when classified products should be prepared in an unclassified format.

Both bills contain provisions to allow federal employees to challenge without retribution information designations, require agency Inspectors General to randomly audit classified information, and to ensure compliance by requiring the name or personal identifier of the employee or contractor classifying the information to be included with the designation. Both bills also require training of federal agency employees and contractors who have classification authority.