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CRS Report – The Presidential Records Act

The Presidential Records Act: Background and Recent Issues for Congress. Wendy Ginsberg, Analyst in American National Government, May 30, 2014.

“Presidential documents are historical resources that capture each incumbent’s conduct in presidential office. Pursuant to the Presidential Records Act ((PRA) 44 U.S.C. §§2201-2207), the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) collects most records of former Presidents and former Vice Presidents at the end of each Administration. They are then disclosed to the public—unless the Archivist of the United States, the incumbent President, or the appropriate former President requests the records be kept private. The PRA is the primary law governing the collection and preservation of, and access to, records of a former President. Although the PRA has remained relatively unchanged since enactment in 1978, successive presidential Administrations have interpreted its meaning differently. Moreover, it is unclear whether the PRA accounts for presidential record keeping issues associated with increasing and heavy use of new and sometimes ephemeral technologies, like email, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, by the President and his immediate staff. Presidential records are captured and maintained by the incumbent President and provided to NARA upon departure from office. The records are then placed in the appropriate presidential repository—usually a presidential library created by a private foundation, which is subsequently deeded or otherwise provided to the federal government. According to data from NARA, the volume of records created by Presidents has been growing exponentially, and the platforms used to create records are also expanding.

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