News Briefs, January 2011

Lee White, January 2011

White House Issues New Rules on “Controlled Unclassified Information”

This story is used with permission of Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News.

On November 4, the White House today issued an executive order (EO 13556) to establish a uniform policy for handling “controlled unclassified information” (CUI), which is information that is restricted from disclosure because it involves personal privacy, proprietary data, law enforcement investigations, or for certain other reasons besides national security.

The new CUI framework will replace the multiplicity of agency markings such as “sensitive but unclassified,” “for official use only,” and over a hundred more. By prohibiting the use of such improvised markings and by adopting a standard CUI marking which is subject to external approval and oversight across the executive branch, the new policy is expected to facilitate information sharing among agencies without fostering new secrecy.

CUI policy had been an open, unresolved item on the government’s information policy agenda for nearly five years, ever since President Bush directed agency heads to “standardize procedures for sensitive but unclassified information” in a December 16, 2005, memorandum.

Significantly, the executive order on CUI does not create any new authority to withhold information from disclosure. It limits the use of the CUI marking to information that is already protected by statute, by regulation, or by government-wide policy. Furthermore, it requires agencies to gain the approval of the CUI “Executive Agent” before using the CUI marking on any particular category of information.

And it mandates that all such approved categories are to be made public on an official registry.

The President has designated the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) as the CUI Executive Agent (EA). In this role, NARA has the authority and responsibility to oversee and manage the implementation of the CUI program.

National Declassification Center’s Plan to Eliminate Backlog

The National Archives National Declassification Center (NDC) has announced the release of its Prioritization Plan for eliminating the 400+ million page backlog of reviewed, but unavailable archival records by December 2013. Also available, as Appendix B for civilian records and Appendix C for defense records are fiscal 2011 civilian and defense work plans for federal records. These plans provide greater detail on those records that will be processed in 2011.

The plan is a roadmap for the NDC to declassify and process for release federal records and presidential materials. The annual work plans provide greater detail about which entries or subject areas within records groups are scheduled for processing this year. NDC Director Sheryl Shenberger noted that “input from the public helped us focus on where to begin,” but she added that “our goal is to meet the President’s deadline to process the entire backlog by the end of 2013.”

The plans may be viewed online. Additionally, comments about the plans or their implementation may be posted on the NDC blog (http://blogs.archives.gov/ndc) or e-mailed to ndc@nara.gov. Progress updates and new release highlights will also be posted on the web site and announced on the blog.

Bill to Authorize Federal Funding for Libraries and Museums Clears the Senate

On December 7, 2010, the Senate cleared S. 3984, the “Museum and Library Services Act of 2010.” The bill would authorize funding for fiscal years 2011–2016 for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). IMLS is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. It must still pass the House before the end of the year or it will have to be reintroduced in 2011.

According to the American Library Association, Americans visit libraries more than 1.3 billion times and check out more than 2.1 billion items each year. And the American Association of Museums reports that there are nearly 850 million visits per year to American museums, and that U.S. museums employ as many as half a million Americans and contribute approximately $20.7 billion to the economy each year.

The bill authorizes nearly $300 million in federal assistance to museums and libraries nationwide in FY 2011. Besides authorizing funding, the bill will also enhance training and professional development for librarians and ensure the development of a diverse library workforce, including by authorizing the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian program, which has been previously funded through annual appropriations.

It will help build state capacity to support museums by authorizing IMLS to support state assessments of museum services and the development and implementation of state plans to improve and enhance those services. The bill will also strengthen conservation and preservation efforts.

Additionally, it seeks to fully leverage the role of libraries and museums in supporting the learning, educational, and workforce development needs of Americans by requiring IMLS to improve coordination and collaboration with other federal agencies that also have an interest in and responsibilities for the improvement of museum and libraries and information services.

Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached at lwhite@nationalhistorycoalition.org.