Washington — In one of his first official acts as president, Barack Obama has overturned a controversial executive order in which former President George W. Bush limited public access to presidential records.
The order, No. 13233, was issued by Mr. Bush in 2001. It expanded the power of current and former chief executives — and their heirs — to restrict access to their official records. Last year the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would have gutted the order, but the measure ran into resistance in the Senate. The House took up the issue again this month.
Mr. Obama’s move will gladden the hearts of historians, who have vigorously protested the Bush order. The news that Mr. Obama had overturned it was reported by the National Coalition for History, an advocacy group, on its Web site this afternoon. It noted that the text of the Obama order was not yet available, and quoted a news release from the White House that refers to the new administration’s stated commitment to transparency in government:
The executive order on presidential records brings those principles to presidential records by giving the American people greater access to these historic documents. This order ends the practice of having others besides the president assert executive privilege for records after an administration ends. Now, only the president will have that power, limiting its potential for abuse. And the order also requires the attorney general and the White House counsel to review claims of executive privilege about covered records to make sure those claims are fully warranted by the Constitution.
President Obama also ordered federal agencies today to look for ways to comply with requests for documents sought under the Freedom of Information Act, in contrast to the practices of the Bush administration. Editor & Publisher, a journal covering the news business, quoted Mr. Obama as saying that “every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known.” —Jennifer Howard