Managing Sensitive Information: Departments of Energy and Defense Policies and Oversight Could Be Improved Page: 2 of 28
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Highlights of GAO-06-369, a report to the
Chairman, Subcommittee on National
Security, Emerging Threats, and
International Relations, Committee on
Government Reform, House of
Why GAO Did This Study
In the interest of national security
and personal privacy and for other
reasons, federal agencies place
dissemination restrictions on
information that is unclassified yet
still sensitive. The Department of
Energy (DOE) and the Department
of Defense (DOD) have both issued
policy guidance on how and when
to protect sensitive information.
DOE marks documents with this
information as Official Use Only
(OUO) while DOD uses the
designation For Official Use Only
(FOUO). GAO was asked to
(1) identify and assess the policies,
procedures, and criteria DOE and
DOD employ to manage OUO and
FOUO information and
(2) determine the extent to which
DOE's and DOD's training and
oversight programs assure that
information is identified, marked,
and protected according to
GAO made several
recommendations for DOE and
DOD to clarify their policies to
assure the consistent application of
OUO and FOUO designations and
increase the level of management
oversight in their use.
DOE and DOD agreed with most of
GAO's recommendations, but
partially disagreed with its
recommendation to periodically
review OUO or FOUO information.
DOD also disagreed that personnel
designating a document as FOUO
should also mark it with the
applicable FOIA exemption.
To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Davi
D'Agostino at (202) 512-5431 or Gene Aloise
at (202) 512-3841.
MANAGING SENSITIVE INFORMATION
Departments of Energy and Defense
Policies and Oversight Could Be
What GAO Found
Both DOE and DOD base their programs on the premise that information
designated as OUO or FOUO must (1) have the potential to cause
foreseeable harm to governmental, commercial, or private interests if
disseminated to the public or persons who do not need the information to
perform their jobs and (2) fall under at least one of eight Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA) exemptions. According to GAO's Standards for
Internal Control in the Federal Government, policies, procedures,
techniques, and mechanisms should be in place to manage agency activities.
However, while DOE and DOD have policies in place, our analysis of these
policies showed a lack of clarity in key areas that could allow for
inconsistencies and errors. For example, it is unclear which DOD office is
responsible for the FOUO program, and whether personnel designating a
document as FOUO should note the FOIA exemption used as the basis for
the designation on the document. Also, both DOE's and DOD's policies are
unclear regarding at what point a document should be marked as OUO or
FOUO and what would be an inappropriate use of the OUO or FOUO
designation. For example, OUO or FOUO designations should not be used to
cover up agency mismanagement. In our view, this lack of clarity exists in
both DOE and DOD because the agencies have put greater emphasis on
managing classified information, which is more sensitive than OUO or
While both DOE and DOD offer training on their OUO and FOUO policies,
neither DOE nor DOD has an agencywide requirement that employees be
trained before they designate documents as OUO or FOUO. Moreover,
neither agency conducts oversight to assure that information is
appropriately identified and marked as OUO or FOUO. According to
Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, training and
oversight are important elements in creating a good internal control
program. DOE and DOD officials told us that limited resources, and in the
case of DOE, the newness of the program, have contributed to the lack of
training requirements and oversight. Nonetheless, the lack of training
requirements and oversight of the OUO and FOUO programs leave DOE and
DOD officials unable to assure that OUO and FOUO documents are marked
and handled in a manner consistent with agency policies and may result in
inconsistencies and errors in the application of the programs.
,United States Government Accountability Office
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Managing Sensitive Information: Departments of Energy and Defense Policies and Oversight Could Be Improved, report, March 7, 2006; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc295418/m1/2/: accessed April 23, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.