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Obama Issues Executive Order Improving “Controlled Unclassified Information”

November 4, 2010

Today, President Obama issued a new Executive Order on Controlled Unclassified Information which standardizes and limits the use of CIU markings in the federal government.  Importantly, the Obama administration solicited and incorporated public comment as it crafted this Executive Order.

According to Patrice McDermott, Director of, “The Bush policy [on CUI] could have created a fourth level of classification.  Instead, this [The Obama]  Order is a victory for openness, for both our community and the Administration.”

As Emily Willard recently blogged about on Unredacted, CUI is a mechanism for withholding documents that are not classified from the public.  Sometimes this marking has been properly used –for withholding information like social security numbers and personal addresses– but often it it has not.  In Willard’s case, for example, CUI led to the time-consuming and costly review (and even redaction) of public documents which were already in the public domain.

A National Security Archive  audit entitled Pseudo-Secrets: A Freedom of Information Audit of the U.S. Government’s Policies on Sensitive Unclassified Information, exposed the problems of CUI in March of 2006.  The Audit found that there was “no monitoring of or reporting on the use or impact of protective sensitive unclassified information markings. Nor [was] there a procedure for the public to challenge protective markings.”

More than four years later, Obama’s new Executive Order fundamentally improves the CUI system.  His executive order on CUI combined with his other transparency initiatives (including last week’s straightforward presentation of the intelligence budget), show clear concrete steps toward the direction of open government.

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