Policy and News Updates for March 6, 2007

Policy Updates

[new] Releasing presidential records
A new bipartisan proposal in the House would overturn President Bush’s 2001 executive order which stalls the release of presidential papers to the public.

On March 1, 2007, Rep. Henry A. Waxman along with Reps. Platts, Clay, and Burton introduced H.R. 1255, the Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007, to nullify the E.O. and restore public access to presidential records. The same day, the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives held a hearing to examine the Presidential Records Act of 1978. At the hearing, Chairman Waxman said that the Bush E.O. had turned the Presidential Records Act into "the Presidential Secrecy Act."

Bush issued Excutive Order (E.O.) 13233 on the Presidential Records Act (PRA) in November 2001. The E.O. gave current and former presidents and vice presidents broad authority to withhold or delay the release of presidential records. Thomas Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive, said in his testimony, "The Executive Order is not just wrong, but stupid. The Order added White House review into a process that did not need such review." Blanton reports that since 2001, the government has added five years of delay into the process of releasing presidential records.

In addition to overturning Bush’s executive order, the bill would establish a deadline for the review of records, limit the authority of former presidents to withhold presidential records, make clear that the right to claim executive privilege is personal to current and former presidents and cannot be bequeathed to assistants, relatives, or descendants, and eliminate the executive privilege claims for vice presidents.

The House Oversight and Government Reform committee is scheduled to mark up H.R. 1255 on Thursday, March 8.
Sources: Testimony is available here; A Tug of War On Presidential Papers’ Release
[Washington Post 3.2.07]

[new] Criminalizing disclosure of classified info
Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) planned to introduce an amendment last week to criminalize the unauthorized disclosure or publication of classified information. OpenTheGovernment.org sent a sign on letter to the Judiciary Committee to oppose the amendment. The amendment was to be attached to a data mining bill, but the bill was not considered because several amendments needed further discussion.


Kyl is now planning to attach a new amendment to Senate legislation which enacts many of the unresolved 9/11 Commission recommendations, Improving America’s Security Act of 2007, (S. 4). The new amendment would revise the Espionage Act to criminalize the disclosure by an employee or member of Congress of information "contained in a report submitted to Congress pursuant to the Improving America’s Security Act of 2007, the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, or the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004." A floor vote may occur on the amendment later this week.
Sources: Leak Attack: Jon Kyl Puts On the Gloves
[Cox Newspapers’ Washington Bureau Blog 2.28.07]

[new] New FOIA bill introduced
Reps. William "Lacy" Clay (D-MO), Todd Platts (R-PA), and Henry Waxman (D-CA) introduced H.R. 1309, Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007, this week. The bill would reform the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It is likely similar legislation will be introduced in the Senate next week.

News from Coalition Partners and Others

Opening Congress
The Open House Project is a temporary working group designed to make recommendations to Congress on easy ways to begin the process to open Congress. In the next few months, the Open House Project wants to:

    • Produce a report with a series of recommendations in late March on how Congress can open its business to the public
    • Foster a discussion with Members, staffers, and institutional stakeholders on a more open Congress
    • Foster a discussion with the public on a more open Congress

You can join their Google Groups listserv, add your information to their mailing list, or just jump in and make suggestions! The Open House Project is a project of the Sunlight Foundation.

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