President Obama Releases Important New Executive Order on Controlled Unclassified Information

On November 4, President Obama released a new Executive Order to establish a uniform framework for the use of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) – a confusing system of control markings agencies have developed that includes hundreds of designations that do not formally classify information but keep it out of the hands of the public (such as “For Official Use Only” (FOUO), “Official Use Only” (OUO), and “Limited Official Use” (LOU)).

According to AALL’s Government Relations Policy, security classification should be construed to promote open government while acknowledging the need for Freedom of Information Act exemptions. In 2007 and 2008, AALL worked closely with OMB Watch to develop the Moving Toward a 21st Century Right-to-Know Agenda: Recommendations to President-elect Obama and Congress. This report included recommendations, incorporated into the new Executive Order, that the White House issue a directive to agencies to reduce the use of information control markings unless there is a statute, regulation or policy directive already protecting it.

The new Executive Order creates a uniform system for managing CUI, and establishes the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) as the Executive Agent to implement the order and ensure compliance.

The Executive Order requires that:

  • Within 180 days, each agency must review all markings used by the agency designation CUI and submit to NARA a catalogue of proposed categories and subcategories of CUI.
  • NARA shall approve all categories of CUI to be applied uniformly throughout the Executive Branch.
  • Within 1 year, NARA must establish a public CUI registry that includes all authorized CUI categories.
  • For the next five years, NARA must complete an annual report on the status of agency implementation of the order. After that, NARA must complete biannual reports.

The Executive Order also states that if there is doubt about whether to mark information as CUI, the agency shall err on the side of openness. AALL commends the Obama Administration for taking this significant step toward reforming policies governing control markings, thereby ensuring greater public access to Controlled Unclassified Information.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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