You can now FOIA George W. Bush’s presidential records

On the fifth anniversary of his presidency, Presidential Records Act kicks in

Written by Jason Smathers
Edited by Michael Morisy

Many of George W. Bush’s presidential records are now available to the public. According to the Presidential Records Act, presidential records are exempt from public disclosure for the first five years after a president leaves office. That clock started on Jan. 20, 2009; today marks the five year mark since Bush left office.

Presidential records are a bit different that other records. Their release is governed by a combination of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and executive orders of the president. On Jan. 21, 2009, Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13489 which currently provides the procedure for release of records under the PRA.

To obtain presidential records, a Freedom of Information Act request will start the process. As long as the president that created those records has been out of the office for at least five years, your request will be accepted. Behind the scenes, to process the records you requested, the NARA goes to work similar to any other FOIA office at first. However, they also are looking for information that should be protected by executive privilege. After doing this, the NARA sends notice to both the incumbent president and the former president (or their representative) if they are still living. The former living president and the incumbent president have the ability to assert executive privilege over these records within thirty days of being notified of the impending release. A claim of executive privilege will cause additional deliberations as detailed in the Executive Order.

Once records are processed under the FOIA, they are available to the public, but they are subject to a different fee schedule than a typical FOIA request. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is responsible for keeping the presidential archives and they are not subject to the FOIA fee schedule. Instead you will be billed according to their own fee schedule which is currently 80 cents per page for copies. Alternatively, you can travel to the location and view them for free. Bush’s records are located at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas Texas. Once records are processed for any person, they are available to the general public.

Before making a FOIA request, it is wise to review what has already been processed. The NARA started processing George W, Bush’s records in 2009 and has published many finding aids on their website. The records already processed do not require a FOIA request to order a copy or to review in person.

Ronald Reagan is the first president to be covered by the PRA. Before he took office, official records created by the president were their own private property legally. More details and contact information can be found on the George W. Bush Library website or to locate the records of previous presidents, a list of presidential libraries is available from the NARA website.


Image via Wikimedia Commons