WASHINGTON – Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said Tuesday the need for legislation to provide greater public access to presidential records is underscored by a federal court ruling that the current process eliminates the authority of the National Archives to control the release of historical records and allows former presidents to delay the release of records “presumably indefinitely.”
The court on Monday struck down part of an Executive Order issued by President Bush in 2001 that created new and broad authorities for former presidents, vice presidents, and their relatives to block the timely release of presidential records.
The Presidential Records Act Amendment of 2007, H.R. 1255, which repeals the entire Executive Order, was passed out of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously in June and is now being blocked on the Senate floor by Senator Jim Bunning, R-Ky. Lieberman appealed to his colleagues to support the bill.
“While I am pleased that the court struck down a troubling section of this Executive Order, the ruling underscores the need to replace the entire order with a process that provides greater public access to presidential records,” Lieberman said. ”Only then can we ensure that the public’s right to an open government is maintained.
“This bill was offered in the spirit of the First Amendment and the principle of freedom of information upon which our nation was founded. I call on my colleagues to refrain from procedural roadblocks and allow the public access to the important historical records of their elected leaders.”
Public Citizen filed suit against the executive order in 2001 on behalf of itself, the American Historical Association (AHA), the National Security Archive (NSA), the Organization of American Historians (OAH), the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Political Science Association (APSA) and historian Stanley Kutler.
The bill, which passed the House by a vote of 333 to 93 in March, establishes new procedures on the release of presidential records under the Presidential Records Act. A Lieberman amendment, which was negotiated after the June mark-up, extends the review period to a maximum of 90 days for former and incumbent presidents after the Archivist has given notification that records are ready for release.