History Coalition Urges Obama Administration to Increase Executive Branch Transparency

The National Coalition for History recently urged the incoming Obama administration to reverse the secrecy trend of the last eight years and to restore openness in the executive branch. Three separate proposals call on President-elect Obama to restore efficiency and openness to the Freedom of Information Act process, reform the classification system to reduce overclassification and facilitate greater declassification, and ensure presidential records are handled in accordance with existing law and Congress’ intent.

A diverse coalition of groups over 60 organizations, convened by the National Security Archive, developed the three proposals. If adopted, the recommendations would establish a framework for accountability, integrity, and greater effectiveness in the federal government. The proposals call on the president-elect to take the following actions during his first days in office:

  • Revoke President Bush’s executive order on the Presidential Records Act, which undermined the PRA by purporting to create new constitutional privileges for the family members and descendents of former presidents and for former vice presidents; commit to working with NARA and Congress to ensure necessary oversight for the transfer and processing of the Bush presidential records; and establish a policy for the new administration to preserve all presidential records of administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value.
  • Issue a memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act that establishes a policy of maximum possible public disclosure of government records and directing an attorney general memo that reinstitutes the presumption of openness under FOIA, calls on agencies to use technology to engage with and inform the public, and commits to creating a more collaborative and less adversarial relationship with the public on issues involving access to information.
  • Issue a presidential directive rejecting prior abuses of the classification system and tasking the relevant executive branch agencies to develop a new executive order on classification that will reduce overclassification, add internal mechanisms to prevent classification abuses, ensure consideration of the public interest throughout the lifecycle of classified information, and improve the declassification process and information sharing.