Making Public Property GW’s

A few quotes from this NY Times article:

Now lawmakers and scholars are hoping to pry open the gateway to such archival documents by lifting what they say has been a major obstacle to historical research: a directive issued by the current Bush White House in 2001 that has severely slowed or prevented the release of important presidential papers.

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President George W. Bush’s 2001 executive order restricted the release of presidential records by giving sitting presidents the power to delay the release of papers indefinitely, while extending the control of former presidents, vice presidents and their families. It also changed the system from one that automatically released documents 30 days after a current or former president is notified to one that withholds papers until a president specifically permits their release.

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Allen Weinstein, the archivist of the United States, said yesterday that the order was not being used to prevent presidential papers from reaching the public, but that obviously “it has been increasing the time and delays, which are endemic.” The backlog of requests for documents now extends up to five years.

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Mr. Blanton blamed the archive’s previous leadership for initially failing to respond to added pressures on the system. But he made clear that the latest executive order has significantly worsened the problem. At a congressional hearing last week he said that waiting time at the Reagan Presidential Library had increased to six and a half years from 18 months in 2001.

“There was a fair, reasonable, orderly, clear, sensible and workable process for presidential records in place during the 1990s,” which Mr. Bush’s executive order “overturned and replaced with the opposite,” Mr. Blanton testified. It “is not just wrong, it’s stupid.”

The 1978 Presidential Records Act, part of the post-Watergate reforms, clearly gave the American public ownership of presidential papers, said the historian Robert Dallek, whose latest book, “Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power,” is being published next month. But Mr. Bush’s executive order, he said, has had the effect of returning ownership to presidents and their heirs.

I don’t get this. If the average Joe or Joette writes a memo at their office, on office stationary, while on company time – the company owns the memo. Why is it different when GW is the Joe? And if GW wants to keep something classified after his term runs out, and it is not something for which it can be shown that continued classification benefits the country, what right should he have to do it? What’s in it for the rest of us, except the bill?