State Department and White House Out of Sync on Federal Register

The memo on Cuba policy will be posted next Monday or Tuesday, a State Department official told Government Executive. The memo on Cuba policy will be posted next Monday or Tuesday, a State Department official told Government Executive.

In a bid for transparency, the Trump administration has taken the unusual approach of publishing national security memos in the Federal Register. With a notable exception.

As Steven Aftergood, author of the “Secrecy Blog” for the Federation of American Scientists, noted in a Monday commentary, Trump’s June 16 National Security Presidential Memorandum No. 5—reversing President Obama’s lifting of some trade and travel restrictions on Americans dealing with Cuba—has yet to appear in the government’s daily rulemaking journal.

That, despite the final line of the memo that reads, “The secretary of State is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.”

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According to reporting by Aftergood, the State Department said it did not receive the Cuba directive in the proper form.

“The Federal Register requires the signed original to be submitted for publication,” a State Department spokesman told Aftergood. “The Department of State does not yet have the original document. We refer you to the White House for further information.”

The White House saw it differently, telling the blogger that the State Department spokesman was misinformed, that a certified copy had been promptly delivered to the executive secretariat within the Office of the Secretary of State, and that the document was ready for publication.

A search of the Federal Register on Cuba since Trump’s swearing in (several were published in the final months of the Obama administration) comes up with a few related mentions: a Bureau of Consular Affairs visa diversity notice affecting many countries and a Trump “presidential determination directing a continuation of certain authorities under the Trading with the Enemy Act.”

But the gap in publishing presidential national security memos extends from June until Oct. 5, when the White House published a presidential national security memo on information sharing among agencies concerning individual bad-actor terrorism threats. That was the first such memo that did not call for publication in the Register, the blogger noted.

The stalemate over the Cuba memo, wrote Aftergood, is the result of a misunderstanding.

“Prior to the Trump Administration, national security directives were never published in the Federal Register. But because the Trump directives were styled as ‘National Security Presidential Memoranda,’ ” he wrote, “it appears that they were drafted by White House officials using a template for ordinary (non-national security) ‘presidential memoranda,’ which are routinely published in the Federal Register every few days.”

Asked for clarification, a State Department official told Government Executive on Wednesday, “As directed by the president in National Security Presidential Memorandum 5, the secretary of State is publishing NSPM-5 in the Federal Register. We anticipate the State Department notice, with the memorandum, to be published on Monday, October 23 or Tuesday, October 24.”  

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