US House Passes Bill on Presidential Records

17 January 2014

The US House of Representatives on Jan. 14 unanimously passed a bill to ensure the timely release of presidential records and require the retention of emails.

Twenty-three organizations wrote a letter of support for the bill, which is similar to legislation passed in previous years and which still needs approval from the Senate.

Among other changes, the bill, H.R. 1233, would imposes a time limit in which a former president must assert any claim of privilege after the national Archivist determined it should be public.

“In the absence of legislation like H.R. 1233, the process for dealing with claims of privilege by a former president has been left to the discretion of each incoming president through the issuance of executive orders,” the letter from the groups said.

They wrote: “This legislation will ensure an orderly process for dealing with claims of privilege over the records of former presidents that affords the greatest degree of public access.”

An amendment added during committee markup of the bill addressed 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,” according to a statement by lead sponsor, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.)

He said: “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.”

Passage of the bill also is described in a blog post by Citizens for Ethics that notes a few other reforms it advocates and summarizes other pro-transparency bills pending in the House.

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