Controlled Unclassified Information

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The Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) Office logo.[1]

Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) is a category of unclassified information within the U.S. Federal government. CUI replaces the labels For Official Use Only (FOUO), Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU), and Law Enforcement Sensitive (LES).[2][3]


A Presidential memorandum of May 9, 2008, signed by President George W. Bush, assigned responsibility to the National Archives (NARA) for overseeing and managing the implementation of the CUI framework.[4] This memorandum was rescinded by Executive Order 13556 of November 4, 2010, and the guidelines previously outlined within it were expanded upon to improve uniformity across all Federal agencies and to develop a standard policy regarding the controlled unclassification process itself.[5]

In a similar previous effort, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Reducing Information Control Designations Act, (H.R. 1323), on March 17, 2009. The bill was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the 111th Congress in the US Senate, but it was never passed by the Senate.

The doctrine, policy, and processes for Controlled Unclassified Information came out of a study and policy change proposal which originated within the Information Sharing and Collaboration Office of the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Under Secretariat of the Department of Homeland Security in 2004. The term Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) was coined by the authors of the study which reviewed over 140 various forms of unclassified information in use throughout the federal government at the time. Authors of the study recommended a new doctrine and policy framework and recommended that ISOO, within the NARA, be charged with implementing and overseeing the new doctrine and policy. At the time of delivery of the policy framework, NARA voiced objections to undertaking the effort due to a lack of resources. The policy recommendation continued to be worked within DHS and the rest of government as part of the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment, which moved from DHS to the ODNI. While the executive order, rescission of the order, and subsequent policy structure worked their way through the government, the timeline for the study/ analysis, creation of a draft policy and framework, the political processes, and the resulting policy implementation lasted from 2005 through 2017. The study was led by Grace Mastalli and Richard Russell.

The US Department of Defense has been handling "Controlled Unclassified Information" before the Presidential 2008 memorandum was published and NARA became the Executive Agent in 2010. The DoD term embraced a similar type of data category. However, the DoD and NARA differed then and now (2019) on specific categories of data defined as "CUI". DoDM 5200.01 Vol 4 defines DoD CUI policy until it is revised to align with NARA's definition. The Secretary of the Navy published SECNAV 5510.34 in November 1993 entitled Disclosure of Classified Military Information and Controlled Unclassified Information.

As of December, 2020, the Director of National Intelligence at the time, John Ratcliffe, issued a memorandum to the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs asking the President of the United States (President Trump) to rescind EO 13556. In the memo, Director Ratcliffe referred to the policies as "exponentially more complex", and "vastly overcomplicated". He continued to express concerns from the Intelligence Community about significant cost, unclear guidance, and requested recision and a process for presidential action. DNI Ratcliffe stated that the following recision, support would be given to an Executive-branch review and replacement of the current FOUO and related markings to protect unclassified information. No extension of the previous December 31, 2020 timeline has been proposed, which has now passed, and it is currently unclear what action, if any, will be taken on this request.[6][7]


  1. ^ Use of the CUI logo is controlled by the National Archives's regulations at 36 C.F.R. 1200.7
  2. ^ Casteli, Elise (January 22, 2008). "New policy expected soon for sensitive information". Federal Times. Archived from the original on January 2, 2013.
  3. ^ "Memorandum For The Heads Of Executive Departments And Agencies - Designation and Sharing of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI)" (Press release). The Office of the White House. May 7, 2008. Archived from the original on June 1, 2009. Retrieved October 21, 2008. Alt URL
  4. ^ "Archivist of the United States Establishes 'Controlled Unclassified Information Office'" (Press release). National Archives and Records Administration. May 22, 2008. Retrieved October 21, 2008.
  5. ^ "Executive Order 13556 of November 4, 2010; Controlled Unclassified Information". Federal Register. Volume 75, Issue 216 (November 09, 2010). pp. 68675–68677. FR Doc. No. 2010–28360.
  6. ^ "Rescission of Executive Order 13556" (PDF). Retrieved 2021-01-06.
  7. ^ "DNI Tries to Abort Controlled Unclassified Info Policy". Federation Of American Scientists. Retrieved 2021-01-06.