House votes to simplify categories for unclassified data

The House has passed legislation that would require the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to oversee a governmentwide effort to simplify how agencies categorize unclassified information.

The Reducing Information Control Designations Act seeks to reduce the number of designations used across the federal government for unclassified information. The measure would require NARA to create regulations for how agencies can label unclassified data and work with agencies to apply the new standards. Each agency’s inspector general would also be required to randomly audit unclassified information with information control designations.

Agencies use more than 100 labels to categorize information, which experts say complicates sharing between agencies and can delay the public's access to government documents.

In May, President Bush ordered agencies to standardize the labels they use for sensitive but unclassified information related to terrorism by using three categories in the Controlled Unclassified Information framework.

The scope of the bill passed by the House July 30 is broader and would apply to all types of unclassified information federal agencies use — not just terrorism-related data.

NARA would also be required to ensure that federal employees who apply the designations are trained in how to properly use them and how to prevent their overuse. Agencies would also be required to detail employees to NARA through 2012 to help ensure that the new guidelines are followed.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it would cost $45 million implement it by 2013.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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