"I firmly believe that ... presidential papers, except for the most highly sensitive documents involving our national security, should be made available to the public." ~ President Gerald Ford
The Presidential Records Act (1978) stated that Presidents and former Presidents had to make their presidential records available to the public 12 years after their final term in office. There were of course certain circumstances under which records could be withheld longer (such as on-going matters of national security), but there was a process by which this happened which ensured that the people would have access to the records of their president.
On November 1, 2001, President Bush issues Executive Order 13233, which, in the words of Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), "carved enormous loopholes in the Presidential Records Act." What this executive order did was to give the President to the unchecked power to withhold any records and/or other materials indefinitely after their final term in office. Not only that, but their heirs could withhold them as well. And as a final coup de grace, the order gave this same power to the vice-president! Personally, I find this deeply disturbing - as should anyone who wants to prevent the tyranny of the state.
Well, there is presently an opportunity to tell Bush that we will not accept this kind of thing. Just yesterday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee unanimously approved H.R. 1255, the "Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007." This is a bill which would revoke 13233 and set a time limit on how long Presidents can withhold this information. But we have to act NOW! This bill will coming up for debate on the House floor early next week. This link will take you the joint website for the Federation of State Humanities Councils, the National Coalition for History and the National Humanities Alliance. They have a full description of what this bill would do. There is also a prepared form letter which you can submit, as is or edited as you choose, directly to your Representative. It's quick and easy - and it's important. So I ask that you let your Reps know that we want our history back!
If you want to know more about the bill and what was said in the Subcommittee's hearings on it, click here.