Obama Executive Order limits privilege for presidential records.
One of President Barack Obamas 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 12-year 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. "Now, only the president will have that power, limiting its potential for abuse." The order also requires the attorney general and the White House counsel to review claims of executive privilege related to covered records to ensure they are warranted by the Constitution.
Bush's political adviser Karl Rove, chief of staff Josh Bolten, and White House counsel Harriet Miers claimed executive privilege to exclude themselves from providing information about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys to congressional committees.
Obama also signed two memos focused on transparency and openness. The first instructs three senior officials to produce an open government directive within the first 120 days of the new administration. The other memo directs the attorney general to issue new guidelines instructing agencies to comply with the letter and the spirit of the FOIA. Both will make it more difficult for government agencies to deny records requests under the act.
"The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed," Obama said. "That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known."