An interesting and overlooked part of President Obama’s Executive Order on Presidential Records is that Obama has reversed a policy instituted by President Bush that allowed the release of presidential papers to be blocked.
Bush’s executive order issued on November 1, 2001 gave broad power and authority to a former president, vice president, their family, and descendents to indefinitely block the release of their papers for reasons of national security or personal privacy. In effect, Bush’s order subverted the Freedom of Information Act, and would have allowed previous administrations to hold on to their secrets forever.
Obama’s order limits the executive privilege to presidents, and according to press release from the White House ,”The Executive Order on Presidential Records brings those principles to presidential records by giving the American people greater access to these historic documents. This order ends the practice of having others besides the President assert executive privilege for records after an administration ends. Now, only the President will have that power, limiting its potential for abuse. And the order also requires the Attorney General and the White House Counsel to review claims of executive privilege about covered records to make sure those claims are fully warranted by the Constitution.”
Obama issued this order on the first full day on the job for a specific symbolic reason. He is saying to America that the era of secrecy is over. He is making it clear that his administration will not only be more publicly open, but it will also follow the Constitution. There was no justifiable reason for the Bush policy, except for the ideological belief that the American people were on a strictly need to know basis about his administration.
As a writer and a person who is a keen student of history, Obama’s decision is not a surprise. As a candidate Obama demonstrated a shrewd knowledge of the historic importance, and possible impact of his candidacy for the presidency. All Americans should be thrilled with the idea that their government will be more open and accountable, not only for now, but for years to come.