Presidential Records

Presidential Transitions

The peaceful transition of power and knowledge from one Presidential Administration to another is both a cornerstone and a cyclical event of American democracy.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) plays a key role in the transfer of textual, electronic, and audiovisual records and artifacts from the White House at the end of the administration.

Laws and Regulations Governing Presidential Transition

The transfer of power from one administration to the next marks a significant moment in U.S. history. The Presidential Transition Acts of 1963 and 2015 give the General Services Administration (GSA) a prominent role in this process. They authorize the Administrator of GSA to provide the President-elect and the Vice-President-elect the services and facilities needed to assume their official duties.

The Presidential Transition Act of 1963, amended by The Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act of 1988, The Presidential Transition Act of 2000, The Presidential Transition Improvements Act of 2015, and the Presidential Records Act (PRA) govern Presidential transitions.

Records created by the President-elect's transition team are not considered Presidential records. For more about records pertaining to presidential transitions, see Guidance Relating to President-Elect Transition Team Materials.

Outgoing Presidents

Presidential and Vice Presidential records and artifacts from the outgoing administration transfer into the legal custody of the National Archives at the end of the President’s term of office. The incumbent President and Vice President maintain legal custody over the records and artifacts during their terms. It is the incumbent administration’s responsibility to identify and transfer presidential records to the National Archives. Within the White House, the Office of Records Management supports these responsibilities. The National Archives works closely with White House records managers to support the transfer of presidential records. 

NARA coordinates the transfer of hundreds of millions of textual, electronic, and audiovisual records that document all aspects of the constitutional, statutory, official or ceremonial duties of the President and the administration, both in the domestic and foreign policy arenas. NARA also takes custody of gifts given to the President and the President’s immediate family. These gifts are accepted on behalf of the United States and include a range of objects that have been received from foreign governments or the American people and foreign citizenry. NARA does not move personal possessions of the President and the First Lady. 

Presidential Records

Presidential records are defined as “documentary materials, or any reasonably segregable portion thereof, created or received by the President, the President’s immediate staff, or a unit or individual of the Executive Office of the President whose function is to advise and assist the President, in the course of conducting activities which relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President.” [44 U.S.C. § 2201(2)].  These records can be in any format such as textual, audiovisual, and electronic records.  Presidential records are governed by the Presidential Records Act (PRA). Learn more about the laws that govern presidential records

White House Websites and Social Media

The content on the White House websites are archived at the end of the administration and transferred to NARA. This content is preserved in the National Archives’ Electronic Records Archive. However, in order for the public to easily access the websites, the National Archives takes an additional step to maintain the websites as they existed at the end of the administration and present them online. Because these archived websites are a historical record of the Presidential administration, NARA does not modify the content, and any broken links (internal or external) are not updated.

The websites are an excellent resource for photographs, speeches, press releases, digital data, and other public domain records. Incoming administrations take ownership of the domain.

Social media content is transferred to the National Archives as part of the official records of a Presidential administration. The National Archives is committed to ensuring that these records are preserved and made available to the public following the provisions of the Presidential Records Act (PRA). 

The institutional accounts on social media, such as @WhiteHouse, @POTUS, @VP, and @PressSec, transfer to the incoming administration. Social media content from the outgoing administration is archived under new account names on the native platforms. The archived accounts are maintained by the National Archives and continue to be available to the public as they were at the end of the administration.

Other official White House accounts are referred to as individual official accounts. NARA works with social media platforms to ensure that individual official accounts which are live at the end of an administration will remain accessible on their native platforms and be maintained by the National Archives. If White House officials use their personal accounts to conduct government business, any presidential record content must be preserved and transferred to the National Archives at the end of the administration.

The National Archives will make the social media content that is not accessible on their native platform publicly available as soon as possible.

Incoming Presidents

Prior to each Presidential election, all Federal agencies are required to prepare briefing materials for the incoming Administration. The materials that NARA prepared for the Presidential Transition cover an agency overview, budget, background on senior leaders, Congressional affairs, issue papers, organizational charts, and an overview of the Office of Inspector General.

Presidential Transition Briefing Book 2016-2017

Presidential Transition Briefing Book 2020-2021

The Presidential Libraries System

Information about the history, laws and regulations, building standards, research, museums and more is available in the Presidential Libraries section on NARA's website.

Past Presidential Transition Oral Histories

In 2000, the White House Transition Project (WHTP) set out to ease the presidential transition process by conducting oral history interviews with former White House staffers from the Richard M. Nixon administration through the William Jefferson Clinton administration. The project worked closely with the National Archives' Office of Presidential Libraries.
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