Senate panel approves policies for release of sensitive documents

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Tuesday approved legislation that would establish polices and procedures for the designation and release of sensitive but unclassified government information.

The draft bill, offered by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., cleared on a voice vote in a committee meeting off the Senate floor.

It would establish a Controlled Unclassified Information Office within the National Archives and Records Administration. The office would be responsible for developing and issuing polices and procedures "governing the designation, safeguarding and dissemination of controlled unclassified information" from federal agencies whether in print or electronic form.

The bill calls for the policies to be developed with the help of a new Controlled Unclassified Information Council, which would be chaired by the director of the new office and made up of officials from federal agencies.

The draft measure also would require federal departments and agencies that use sensitive but unclassified information to implement the policies developed by the new Archives' office, designate a senior officer to sit on the Controlled Unclassified Information Council and establish a process for noncompliance or misuse of sensitive unclassified data. The bill would authorize $14.5 million over five years to fund the bill's requirements.

The committee started work on the bill last week but could not take a final vote due to a lack of a quorum.

On a voice vote at the initial markup meeting, the panel adopted a substitute amendment making technical changes to the draft bill and adding language to the section dealing with the responsibilities of the new Controlled Unclassified Information Office.

The language would require that all relevant documents related to the controlled unclassified information framework called for under the bill are "made available on the Web site of the National Archives and Records Administration in a timely manner." In addition, under the provision dealing with agency requirements, the substitute added language that would require agencies to establish a process that allows agency officials or employees to challenge the use of controlled unclassified information markings.

In a May 2007 letter to several administration officials, Lieberman and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, voiced concern over the lack of government-wide procedures for handling sensitive but unclassified government information, which they said may hamper information sharing particularly among agencies involved in deterring future terrorist attacks.

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