Today’s NYT has an editorial endorsing the repeal of Executive Order 13233. As recently as January, this measure was supposedly dead in the water because the House oversight committee had other priorities. The Bush library debate seems to have resurrected it. SMU’s historians issued a statement assailing the order, SMU’s faculty senate endorsed that statement and requested that SMU’s President R. Gerald Turner appeal for the order’s repeal, a request which he dodged.
Here’s the editorial, in its entirety:
Sunshine on History
In November 2001, while the world was focused on terrorism, President Bush issued an executive order making it significantly harder for historians and the public to gain access to a former president’s official papers. The House has a chance tomorrow to reverse this damaging decree.
Mr. Bush’s decision effectively repealed the presumption of public availability enshrined in the Presidential Records Act of 1978, a post-Watergate reform that established that the treasure trove of historical material amassed by a president belongs to the American people.
In the place of these open government principles, Mr. Bush established cumbersome review procedures that give former presidents, and even their heirs, unprecedented authority to selectively withhold sensitive records indefinitely. The backlog of presidential document requests now extends to five years or longer, compared with 18 months in 2001, according to recent testimony in the House.
The bill to undo Mr. Bush’s order, sponsored by Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, and colleagues from both parties, would re-establish sensible procedures to ensure timely release of presidential documents. It would retract the authority Mr. Bush granted presidential descendants and vice presidents to withhold records.
The bill is part of a broader open-government package that includes measures to require public disclosure of private donations to build presidential libraries and to repair Bush administration damage to the Freedom of Information Act. It also mandates greater transparency in federal contracting. Approval of the whole package would be a major boon for the writing of history and for government accountability.