Presidential Libraries and Museums

Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978

The Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978, 44 U.S.C. ß2201-2207, governs the official records of Presidents and Vice Presidents created or received after January 20, 1981. The PRA changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public, and established a new statutory structure under which Presidents must manage their records.

Specifically, the Presidential Records Act:

  • Defines and states public ownership of the records.
  • Places the responsibility for the custody and management of incumbent Presidential records with the President.
  • Allows the incumbent President to dispose of records that no longer have administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value, once he has obtained the views of the Archivist of the United States on the proposed disposal.
  • Requires that the President and his staff take all practical steps to file personal records separately from Presidential records.
  • Establishes a process for restriction and public access to these records. Specifically, the PRA allows for public access to Presidential records through the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) beginning five years after the end of the Administration, but allows the President to invoke as many as six specific restrictions to public access for up to twelve years. The PRA also establishes procedures for Congress, courts, and subsequent Administrations to obtain special access to records that remain closed to the public, following a thirty-day notice period to the former and current Presidents..
  • Requires that Vice-Presidential records are to be treated in the same way as Presidential records.

Amendments

  • Executive Order 12667
    Issued by President Reagan in January 1989, this Executive Order established the procedures for NARA and former and incumbent Presidents to implement the PRA.

  • Executive Order 13233
    This Executive Order, issued by President George W. Bush on November 1, 2001, supersedes the previous Executive Order. The Bush Executive Order also includes the documents of former Vice Presidents.

  • Executive Order 13489
    This Executive Order, issued by President Barack Obama on January 21, 2009, supersedes the previous Executive Order.

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