Obama Executive Order Limits Privilege for Presidential Records

Information Management, March/April 2009 | Go to article overview
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Obama Executive Order Limits Privilege for Presidential Records


GOVERNMENT RECORDS

One of President Barack Obama's first orders of business after moving into the Oval Office was revoking one of George W. Bush's most controversial orders involving presidential records. On his first day in office, Obama signed his own executive order revoking Bush's Executive Order 13233, which gave ex-presidents and their families unprecedented control over the release of White House records.

Bush's November 2001 order gave presidents and vice presidents - and, for the first time, their heirs - wide authority to block the release of White House records for any reason and in perpetuity. The order nullified the 1978 Presidential Records Act, which made presidential records government property and established procedures for public release. Under that law, presidents generally could restrict access to some types of White House records for 12 years after they left office. Exemptions for national security and privacy could be claimed beyond the 12year period.

The 2001 order also required people who request White House records to show a "demonstrated, specific need" to see them. That standard is not required by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) governing release of other government records.

"Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency," Obama said, upon introducing this and another executive order that addresses government ethics.

Obama's order on presidential records "ends the practice of having others besides the president assert executive privilege for records after an administration ends," White House officials said in a statement.

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