President Obama Revokes Bush Presidential Records Executive Order (updated Jan. 26)

On January 21, in one of his first official acts, President Barack Obama revoked the Bush administration’s Executive Order 13233 that severely limited access by the public to presidential records. Click here to see a copy of President Obama’s new Executive Order 13489.

President Obama firmly committed his administration to a new policy of transparency by symbolically issuing the executive order on his first full day in office. The issuance of the Obama presidential records executive order ends a nearly eight year effort by historians, archivists, political scientists and other stakeholders in federal courts and on Capitol Hill to have the Bush EO revoked on legal grounds or by statute.

The language in the Obama executive order is similar to Executive Order 12667 issued by President Reagan in 1989 which was also in effect during the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The Reagan executive order was revoked when President Bush issued EO 13233 in November 2001.

The Obama executive order restores the presumption that the incumbent president, not former presidents, their heirs or designees should be the one asserting claims of executive privilege. The executive order states that only “living” former Presidents can make claims of executive privilege. This removed one of the most egregious sections of the Bush EO that allowed heirs or designees to make claims of executive privilege for an indefinite period after the death of a former President.

In addition, the provisions in the Bush EO allowing former vice presidents to assert executive privilege are gone. In fact, the Obama EO makes it clear that vice presidential records are to be included under the definition of “presidential records.”

Executive Order 13489 also restores the function of the Archivist of the United States’ as an independent arbiter of initial claims of executive privilege. The executive order assumes the Archivist may release records 30 days after notifying the incumbent and former Presidents unless a claim of executive privilege is made.

The press release from the White House says the following:

“The Executive Order on Presidential Records brings those principles to presidential records by giving the American people greater access to these historic documents. This order ends the practice of having others besides the President assert executive privilege for records after an administration ends. Now, only the President will have that power, limiting its potential for abuse. And the order also requires the Attorney General and the White House Counsel to review claims of executive privilege about covered records to make sure those claims are fully warranted by the Constitution.”

17 Responses to “President Obama Revokes Bush Presidential Records Executive Order (updated Jan. 26)”

  1. Ari Herzog Says:

    This is great news! I recall reading many reports over the years that presidential records archivists were upset by the old EO and they should be thrilled with the new one.

  2. Andrew Rudalevige Says:

    It is good news – though as I look at the order itself, it does leave room for the blanket assertion of executive privilege by the incumbent (and, less mechanically, a former) president, without avenue for appeal other than through the courts. Not sure the Presidential Records Act itself supports this – and presumably the law trumps an executive order. Still, a huge improvement.

  3. M. Rees Says:

    “History will be the judge” was a favorite saying of the last administration. Perhaps now historians will be able to go beyond “official truths” of the past to seek out evidence for what actually happened. Not to pass judgment, but to inform and educate the public.

  4. Brian Hawkins Says:

    Access to information is key to holding our government accountable for their actions. Past administrations have, for far to long, abused the power of executive privilege, which has ultimately crippled the trust the American people have toward their own government. Over the next four years, our government will make decisions that many Americans will either praise or criticize; however, that is the essence of any democracy. Through this new executive order, President Obama has clearly given a message to the American people that you can trust your government.

  5. Ray Olson Says:

    Oh great! That means our enemies will know what we do! When I was in the military we learned about OpSec, that is Operational Security which is the ability to extract classified material by scrutinizing public information. Who knows what our enemies will be able to gleen from newly released information from our president. I believe in the First Amendment but I believe in the security of our nation way more than that! Let’s hope we don’t live to regret this openness.

  6. Chris Charabaruk Says:

    This is great news! I hope that this and other moves by the Obama administration to improve government transparency find their way up here to Canada, where it is still badly needed.

  7. Debra Penn Says:

    Great article!!!! Especially the reference/comparison to Reagan’s first EO.
    Now, if we can just get America to READ it.

  8. JRL Says:

    Ray Olsen,

    You assume that the enemy is some external threat. However it is clear to most of us that the true enemy has been the excessively secretive Bush Administration.

  9. balanceinmedia Says:

    JRL said:

    “Ray Olson, You assume that the enemy is some external threat. However it is clear to most of us that the true enemy has been the excessively secretive Bush Administration.”

    Are you seriously asking us to all swallow the idea that the US has no external threat????? Also, are you referring to the “excessively secretive Bush Administration” that has kept terrorists (you know, like the ones that aren’t an “external threat” which killed over 3000 innocent Americans on 9-11) from carrying out an attack on US soil for the past seven years????

    Honestly…

  10. National Coalition for History » Blog Archive » President Obama Issues Sweeping New Transparency Policies Says:

    [...] reforms. In addition to revoking President Bush’s executive order on presidential records (see related story), the President issued a Presidential Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, and a [...]

  11. Curtis Says:

    Ray Olsen,

    How cavalierly you would cast away the very principles this country was founded to protect. How many men and women have died to protect these very rights? Happily, the Founder Fathers were more concerned about their principles than their personal safety.

  12. Richard Scarbrough Jr Says:

    That’s great. Glad to see President Obama is using his authority. However, until he uses his authority to extinguish Martial Law declared by President Lincoln on April 24th, 1863 with General Orders No 100 (which is still in effect today) he does nothing. This martial law authority gives the President (with or without congress) the dicatatorial authority to do anyting that can be done by government in accord with the Constitution of the United States of America. This conscription act is the foundation of Presidential Executive Orders authority.

  13. Margie Says:

    It’s clear a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. If transparency helps its citizens gain trust in its government, wouldn’t the same concept be appropriate for other countries to regain its trust in the US? If the US becomes aligned with other countries, the coalition of countries (not only the US) will have the responsibility for maintaining civility among nations. This keeps the world safe, not just US. We’ve got to get out of this frame of consciousness that the US works as a sovereign country, therefore must protect itself from “external enemies”. Secrecy breeds distrust that fosters the “other” to start behaving guarded against any threats. It is a perpetual cycle. If our country declares solidarity amongst its people and to other nations, perhaps we can find alternative solutions for handling conflict, as opposed to acting like savages by killing people through war to get what “we” want. Perhaps, this may influence other countries to act the same.

  14. EDDIE Says:

    I AM TRULY IMPRESSED AND TOTALLY ELATED.OBAMA IS TRYING TO MAKE THIS WORLD A BETTER PLACE FOR OUR GRAND-CHILDREN PLUS IS GIVING OUR CHILDREN HOPE AND IS GIVING ME A SENSE OF SECURITY I HAVE I LOST SINCE THE NIXON ADMINISTRATION.

  15. Helen Says:

    Ray Olsen

    I understand security Ops….Classified and top secret documents remain just that. They are NOT a matter of public record.

    You have no idea what you are talking about. You have fallen for Bush and Cheney’s “fear tactics” hook, line, and sinker!

  16. Martin K. Gordon Says:

    Great news, now will the president make Carol Browner leave an audit trail. Remember this appointee does not believe in email.

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