Bill to Secure Records During Presidential Transition Introduced

Following reports that the outgoing Trump administration is destroying presidential records and ignoring the law when using non-official electronic devices to conduct official business, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Thursday introduced the Promoting Accountability and Security in Transition (PAST) Act, to clarify and enhance existing law with regards to presidential transition and presidential records. Congressman Mike Quigley (IL-05) introduced the companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. NCH was consulted during the drafting of the legislation and has endorsed the bill.

“It has become evident that the Presidential Records Act (PRA), while well intentioned, did not go far enough in establishing guardrails defining how these vital records should be accounted for, and preserved especially during a presidential transition. The law also needs to be amended to address rapidly changing technologies such as apps and software with automatic deleting functionality. Presidential records tell our Nation’s story from a unique perspective and are essential to an incoming administration in making informed decisions. They are equally vital to historians who rely on presidential records to compile the full narrative of an administration for future generations. Sen. Murphy’s bill goes a long way towards filling the gaps left by the PRA amendments of 2014 and the National Coalition for History endorses the PAST Act.” – Lee White Executive Director, National Coalition for History

Specifically, the Promoting Accountability and Security in Transition Act includes three parts:

1.      Presidential Records Act, which:

·         Requires the President to receive written guidance from the Archivist before destroying any records and make this guidance publicly available;

·         Requires the Archivist to inspect White House records management, training, and standard operating procedures on a biannual basis;

·         Allows judicial review of access restrictions to Presidential Records and allows a Congressional Committee Ranking Members to request exemptions to access restrictions after a President’s term in office;

·         Requires the Archivist to provide regulations for documenting records created on non-official electronic messaging accounts (e.g. WhatsApp), preserving social media messaging (e.g. Twitter), and narrow exemptions for using applications with automatic deleting functionalities (e.g. Signal, Confide); and

·         Requires the President to prohibit White House staff from using non-official electronic messaging accounts that cannot be easily copied or forwarded to official accounts and all messaging accounts with automatic deleting functionalities.

2.      Presidential Compensation and Libraries, which:

·         Establishes consequences for former Presidents that destroy Presidential records, including restricting post-presidency salary and staff, prohibiting public funding for Presidential Library construction, and preventing presidential records from being entrusted to a Presidential Library or Museum regardless of whether public funds were used for construction; and

·         Requires former Presidents to cover the entire cost of digitizing records for display in a Presidential Library.

3.      Presidential Transitions Act, which:

·         Ensures president-elects receive comprehensive and timely briefings on vital national security information during a transition;

·         Requires the General Services Administrator to independently ascertain the President-elect within six calendar days of an election and provide sources to any plausible winning candidates to support continuity of government; and

·         During a transition, requires the Archivist to work with the Federal Transition Coordination to monitor records preservation compliance and report any compliance issues to Congress.