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Presidential Records Act

Presidential Records Act

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The Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978, , is an Act of Congress
Act of Congress
An Act of Congress is a statute enacted by government with a legislature named "Congress," such as the United States Congress or the Congress of the Philippines....

 of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 governing the official records of Presidents
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 and Vice Presidents
Vice President of the United States
The Vice President of the United States is the holder of a public office created by the United States Constitution. The Vice President, together with the President of the United States, is indirectly elected by the people, through the Electoral College, to a four-year term...

 created or received after January 20, 1981, and mandating the preservation of all presidential records. The PRA changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public, and established a new statutory structure under which Presidents must manage their records.

Specifically, the Presidential Records Act:
  • Defines and states public ownership of the records.
  • Places the responsibility for the custody and management of incumbent Presidential records with the President.
  • Allows the incumbent President to dispose of records that no longer have administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value, once he has obtained the views of the Archivist of the United States
    Archivist of the United States
    The Archivist of the United States is the chief official overseeing the operation of the National Archives and Records Administration. The first Archivist, R.D.W. Connor, began serving in 1934, when the National Archives was established as an independent federal agency by Congress...

     on the proposed disposal.
  • Requires that the President and his staff take all practical steps to file personal records separately from Presidential records.
  • Establishes a process for restriction and public access to these records. Specifically, the PRA allows for public access to Presidential records through the Freedom of Information Act (United States)
    Freedom of Information Act (United States)
    The Freedom of Information Act is a federal freedom of information law that allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government. The Act defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure...

     (FOIA) beginning five years after the end of the Administration, but allows the President to invoke as many as six specific restrictions to public access for up to twelve years. The PRA also establishes procedures for Congress, courts, and subsequent administrations to obtain special access to records that remain closed to the public, following a thirty-day notice period to the former and current Presidents.
  • Requires that Vice-Presidential records are to be treated in the same way as Presidential records.


Since its passage, presidents have used various methods to avoid complying with the Act, including holding meetings away from the White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

 and "using non-government email
Email
Electronic mail, commonly known as email or e-mail, is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to one or more recipients. Modern email operates across the Internet or other computer networks. Some early email systems required that the author and the recipient both be online at the...

 accounts with lobbyists."

Amendments

  • Executive Order 12667
    Executive Order 12667
    Executive Order 12667 established a procedure for former United States Presidents to limit access to certain records which would otherwise have been released by the National Archives and Records Administration under the Presidential Records Act of 1978...

     - Issued by President Reagan
    Ronald Reagan
    Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

     in January 1989, this executive order established the procedures for NARA
    National Archives and Records Administration
    The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent agency of the United States government charged with preserving and documenting government and historical records and with increasing public access to those documents, which comprise the National Archives...

     and former and incumbent Presidents to implement the PRA.

  • Executive Order 13233
    Executive Order 13233
    Executive Order 13233 limited access to the records of former United States Presidents. It was drafted by then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and issued by George W. Bush on November 1, 2001...

     - This executive order, issued by President George W. Bush
    George W. Bush
    George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

     on November 1, 2001, supersedes the previous executive order. The Bush executive order also includes the documents of former Vice Presidents.

  • Executive Order 13489 - Issued by President Barack Obama
    Barack Obama
    Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

     on January 21, 2009, restored the implementation of the PRA of 1978 as practiced under President Reagan's Executive Order 12667 and revoked President Bush's Executive Order 13233.

Proposed amendments

  • Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007, passed by the House
    United States House of Representatives
    The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

    on March 14, 2007

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