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The Presidential Records Act in Crisis

Six Years Since White House Intervened, Five Years of "Pure Delay"

Archive Director Testifies Before House Oversight Subcommittee

For more information contact:
Thomas Blanton - 202/994-7000

Statement of Thomas S. Blanton, National Security Archive
Before the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Hearing on: "The Presidential Records Act of 1978: A Review of Executive Branch Implementation and Compliance," March 1, 2007

In the news

"Scholars take on Bush over access to presidential papers"
By Patricia Cohen
International Herald Tribune
March 8, 2007

"A Tug of War On Presidential Papers' Release"
By Elizabeth Williamson
The Washington Post
March 2, 2007

"Bill may loosen Bush grip on papers"
By Sudeep Reddy
The Dallas Morning News
March 2, 2007

"Open Up, Mr. President!"
By Elizabeth Redden
Inside Higher Ed
March 2, 2007

Additional Documents from the Hearing

Bill Summary: Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007
Rep. Henry Waxman, Chairman, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Statment of Rep. Henry A. Waxman
Chairman, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Statement by Allen Weinstein
Archivist of the United States

Statement by Harold C. Relyea
Congressional Research Service

Testimony of Scott L. Nelson
Attorney, Public Citizen Litigation Group

Testimony of Anna K. Nelson
Distinguished Historian in Residence, American University

Washington DC, March 1, 2007 - Since 2001, the government has added five years of delay into the process of releasing presidential records, according to testimony delievered today by Archive executive director Thomas Blanton before the House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives. These are statistics from the Reagan Presidential Library - their official estimates of response times that they send to you when you request documents. The delay has risen from 18 months in 2001 to 78 months today.

According to Blanton's testimony:

"The late President Ronald Reagan left office 18 years ago, in January 1989, and the Reagan Library began making his White House records public in 1994, as the law envisions, with most restrictions expiring by the 12-year mark, or January 2001. The Freedom of Information Act says federal agencies have to respond to requests for records within 20 working days (roughly four weeks), yet if you write the Reagan Library today asking for a specific record, the Library staff will write you back with an estimate of 78 months (six and a half years!) you will have to wait before they complete processing. At the 12-year mark, that is, in early 2001, the Reagan Library's estimated response time was only 18 months. For organizations like mine that are veteran users of the Freedom of Information Act, 18 months is not an unusual delay when the subject matter involves classified documents or complicated processing."

"But early 2001 is the moment that the new White House counsel (now the Attorney General) decided to hold up the scheduled release of the infamous 68,000 pages of Reagan Library records that were ready to go, cleared by the professional archivists and the career reviewers, under the process that actually worked in the 1990s. During 2001, as those 68,000 pages sat on a White House lawyer's desk, the delay estimated by the Reagan Library went from 18 months to 24 months, by the time President Bush issued his Executive Order 13233 in November 2001. Since then, the delay reached 48 months in 2003, and 60 months in 2005, before its current 78 months."

"In other words, we are only six years down the road from the initial White House decision in early 2001 to intervene in the Presidential Records Act process, and five years of that turns out to be pure delay."

Click here to read the full statement

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