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A Tug of War On Presidential Papers' Release

By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 2, 2007

A bipartisan proposal targeting White House rules on the release of presidential papers would claw back power over public records from the executive branch, advocates of the bill say.

The House measure, introduced yesterday, would overturn President Bush's 2001 executive order adding layers of review before presidential papers are made public. Historians and archivists say the order has kept thousands of documents from public view.

Bush's order "gave current and former presidents and vice presidents broad authority to withhold presidential records or delay their release indefinitely," Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a bill sponsor, said in a statement yesterday. Waxman's co-sponsors include Reps. Todd R. Platts (R-Pa.), William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.).

Bush issued the order after the White House held up the release of 68,000 pages of Ronald Reagan Presidential Library documents in 2001. Under the previous system, the president, former presidents or designees had 30 days to review documents and lodge objections. Bush added reviews by the families of former presidents to the process, and removed the 30-day deadline. He also broadened the rules to encompass vice presidential papers.

Thomas S. Blanton, chief of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, said that waiting time for documents from the Reagan Library has soared from 18 months to more than six years since the Bush order, because of the review process and factors such as understaffing at the National Archives.

Bush's order "has added to the endemic problem of delay," Allen Weinstein, the national archivist, said in his testimony. Since the order, White House review time has grown to approximately 210 days, he said.

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