House Passes Cummings Bill to Expand Access to Presidential Records
Washington, DC (Jan. 14, 2014)—Today, the House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass legislation introduced by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to amend the Presidential Records Act. The legislation, the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments (H.R. 1233), institutes new guidelines and procedures to ensure the timely release of presidential records.
The bill is widely supported by good government groups and organizations dedicated to increasing transparency in government. Twenty-three organizations sent a strong letter in support, including OpentheGovernment.org, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Project on Government Oversight, and Government Accountability Project.
Below are Ranking Member Cummings’ remarks, as prepared for delivery on the House floor today:
“I want to begin by thanking Chairman Issa for supporting this legislation and for making this a bipartisan effort. The Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments is aimed at giving the American people access to the records presidents create while they are in office.
“Under the Presidential Records Act, a president has discretion to restrict access to his records for up to twelve years after he leaves office. After that time, a president can continue to restrict access to his records by arguing that the records are protected by executive privilege. The Presidential Records Act does not currently include guidelines for the consideration of presidential privilege claims.
“This bill would amend the law by adding procedures to ensure the timely release of presidential records. Under this bill, current and former presidents would have up to 90 days to object to the release of records or those records would be released.
“The Presidential and Federal Records Act also would require that any assertion of privilege by a former president be affirmed by the incumbent president or through a court order. The bill we are considering today also makes clear that the right to assert privilege is personal to current and former presidents, and it cannot be bequeathed to assistants, relatives, or descendants. Putting this language into statute will ensure that future presidents are held to the standard first set by President Reagan.
“The Chairman of the Oversight Committee, Representative Darrell Issa, added an amendment during the Committee markup of the bill to address the use of personal email by federal employees. There is nothing currently in the Presidential Records Act or the Federal Records Act that prohibits employees from using personal email accounts to conduct official business. These acts simply require preservation of these records. This bill would continue to allow employees to use their personal email account when necessary. But it would require employees to copy their official email account or forward their email to their official account.
“This is a good government bill. Similar versions of this bill overwhelmingly passed the House in two previous Congresses.
“I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 1233 so the Senate can take it up quickly and send it on to the President’s desk.”