The Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978, 44 U.S.C. ß2201-2207, governs the official records of Presidents and Vice Presidents created or received after January 20, 1981. It was instituted in the aftermath of Watergate and the many and varied claims of executive privilege by President Richard M. Nixon.

The PRA changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public. The PRA established a new statutory structure under which Presidents must manage their records. It mandates their release no more than 12 years after a President's term expires. All of this has now become moot as President George W. Bush has delayed the release of President Ronald Reagan's papers, which should have become public in January 2001, and those of Reagan's Vice President -- Bush Sr.

In fact, President Bush has decided that only he can authorize release of the papers, and he isn't inclined to do so. many believe this is simply a charade to protect the many members of his administration who also served under Reagan from embarassing revelations -- and quite possibly the reputation of his father as well.

The Presidential Records Act:

  • Defines and states public ownership of the records
  • Places the responsibility for the custody and management of incumbent Presidential records with the President
  • Allows the incumbent President to dispose of records that no longer have administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value, once he has obtained the views of the Archivist of the United States on the proposed disposal
  • Requires that the President and his staff take all practical steps to file personal records separately from Presidential records
  • Establishes a process for restriction and public access to these records. Specifically, the PRA allows for public access to Presidential records through the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) beginning five years after the end of the Administration, but allows the President to invoke as many as six specific restrictions to public access for up to twelve years. The PRA also establishes procedures for Congress, courts, and subsequent Administrations to obtain special access to records that remain closed to the public, following a thirty-day notice period to the former and current Presidents.
  • Requires that Vice-Presidential records are to be treated in the same way as Presidential records
  • Presidential records are defined as:
    Documentary materials, or an reasonably segregable portion thereof, created or received by the President, his immediate staff, or a unit or individual or the Executive Office of the President whose function is to advise and assist the President, in the course of conducting activities which relate to or have and effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President 44 U.S.C. ß 2201(2)

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