Chairman, Subcommittee on Government Efficiency
2154 Rayburn Office Building
facsimile transmission: (202) 225-2373
write to express the grave concern of the Society of American Archivists
with respect to the Presidents recent Executive Order 13233
on Presidential Papers. Founded in 1936, the Society of American
Archivists (SAA) is North America's oldest and largest national
archival professional association. SAA's mission is to serve the
educational and informational needs of more than 3,400 individual
and institutional members and to provide leadership to ensure the
identification, preservation, and use of records of historical value.
apprehension over this Executive Order is on several levels. First,
it violates both the spirit and letter of existing U.S. law on access
to presidential papers as clearly laid down in 44 U.S.C. 2201-2207.
This law establishes the principle that presidential records are
the property of the United States government and that the management
and custody of, as well as access to, such records should be governed
by the Archivist of the United States and established archival principlesall
within the statutory framework of the act itself. The Executive
Order puts the responsibility for these decisions with the President,
and indeed with any sitting President into the future. Access
to the vital historical records of this nation should not be governed
by executive decree; this is why the existing law was created.
on a broader level this Executive Order potentially threatens to
undermine one of the very foundations of our nation. Free and open
access to information is the cornerstone to modern democratic societies
around the world. For such access to be curtailed or abrogated by
an executive process not subject to public or legislative review
or scrutiny would violate the principles upon which our nation was
foundedall the more troubling at a time when we should be
holding the beacon of freedom higher than ever.
we would urge Congress to reassert its authority in these matters.
While present law establishes important principles with respect
to presidential papers and their management and care which certainly
appear to need reaffirming, it is entirely possible that the law
may need some fine-tuning, and that minor revisions may satisfy
the concerns that motivated the White House in this Executive Order.
For example, it may be that revising the law to modify the length
of time during which Presidential papers are restricted will serve
to protect legitimate national security and executive privilege
concerns while still ensuring that the American people have certain
and timely access to the records of their Chief Executive. This
is only to suggest that some compromises may be possible. We would
be happy to consult with and otherwise assist your subcommittee
and other relevant bodies within Congress in developing new and
workable legislation that is consistent with open access to information.
again, let me stress our professional concern over the most recent
Executive Order. Not only does it challenge and abrogate existing
statutory authority, it has the potential to seriously restrict
the unfettered flow of information upon which our nation depends.
I would strongly urge Congress to take immediate action to overturn
you. We look forward to working with you and your colleagues in
resolving this matter.
Society of American Archivists