Washington Post: House Passes Open-Government Bills

House Passes Open-Government Bills
Elizabeth Williamson and Jonathan Weisman
The Washington Post
March 15, 2007

In a bipartisan confrontation with the White House over executive branch secrecy, the House ignored a stern veto threat and overwhelmingly passed a package of open-government bills yesterday that would roll back administration efforts to shield its workings from public view.

Even top Republicans supported three bills that would streamline access to records in presidential libraries, expand safeguards for government whistle-blowers, and strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which guides public requests for government documents. All were approved with veto-proof majorities.

Continued here.

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One Response to Washington Post: House Passes Open-Government Bills

  1. Maarja Krusten says:

    I posted some comments on Sunday on the PRA at the History News Network’s POTUS blog, which focuses on matters related to the Presidency. See
    http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=107289&bheaders=1#107289

    You’ll see that I am very cautious about the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). That is based on my experiences during litigation that Professor Stanley Kutler filed against the agency in 1992. He sought access to Richard Nixon’s unreleased tapes.

    As everyone does, I look at issues through the prism of my experiences, some of which have not been positive. I was a government witness in the Kutler litigation and later expressed my concerns in a letter I sent the Attorney General, after I testified in 1992. As I’ve mentioned, NARA does not speak for itself in court and it generally can be hard to tell from outside when it is speaking mostly as the National Archives and when it is conveying a message crafted outside the agency.

    The Kutler case is a huge albatross for NARA, one it still trails as baggage, unfortunately. I wrote in my article, “Watergate’s Last Victim,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, Spring 1996, that:

    “Court records (as well as my personal experience) illustrate NARA’s vulnerabilities. Over the protests of working archivists, senior managers in 1989 accepted from Nixon an informal list of deletions to Watergate tapes previously screened for privilege by Judge John Sirica. Agency regulations require public notice of external claims against release of Nixon records. In opening tape extracts in 1991, NARA did not inform scholars it removed information at Nixon behest. When historian Stanley Kutler sued for tapes access in 1992 (D.D.C., Civ. A. 92-662-NHJ), NARA continued to shield Nixon’s role in tape deletions, admitting it in court only after revelations by working archivists.

    Through lawyer Elizabeth A. Pugh, the Justice Department defended the acceptance of the Nixon excision list by NARA managers. Pugh argued in an October 26, 1994 pleading that since no researchers challenged the opening of the tapes in 1991, belated allegations about their handling were moot. Of course, in 1991 researchers could not protest Nixon’s role because the government concealed it. The argument in Pugh’s pleading implied support for concealing agency actions from the public.”

    Once you go through that, you can never be certain what is going on with NARA. Former Presidents have every right unde law to make their views known on what should be released from their records. There is a regulatory process in place for that, both for Nixon’s PRMPA-administered records and for the PRA-administered records of later Presidents. I may be overly idealistic (yes, still so after 34 years as a Federal employee) but in my view, former Presidents and their representatives should be stand up guys about what they believe should be restricted. What happened with the Nixon tapes troubles me still. I wish NARA well, it has many good historian-archivists working as staff and managers, but it would be naïve to think they can have much influence over power players. That’s not to say they shouldn’t try.

    Submitted from home at 8:10 am Eastern time

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