Statement on Signing Into Law H.R. 13500, the Presidential Records Act of 1978
During my campaign, I promised to work to make the Presidency a more open institution. So, I am especially pleased to sign the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which will ensure that Presidential papers remain public property after the expiration of a President's term.
In the past there were no statutory restrictions on the disposition of Presidential papers. Retiring Presidents, Vice Presidents, and their staffs could take their papers with them as their own private property. Under the new law, all but the most personal of these papers will remain in the hands of the Federal Government after an administration leaves office.
Once the documents are processed, they will be available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. The exceptions provided for in the new law are sharply limited and carefully drawn. An outgoing President can restrict access for a period of up to 12 years to especially sensitive materials, such as those relating to a Presidential appointment or those which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of a citizen. As a safeguard, the legislation also provides for the resolution of constitutional questions raised by disputes over the release of Presidential records. Of course, classified foreign relations and national security information will continue to be protected after the 12-year period under Executive order and the relevant Freedom of Information Act exemptions.
Even though the bill does not take effect until January 1981, I will ensure that the Presidential papers created during my current term will be preserved and made available as part of the rich historical record for future generations of scholars.
I wish to commend Congressmen John Brademas, Jack Brooks, Richardson Preyer, and Frank Thompson, and Senators Abraham Ribicoff, Gaylord Nelson, and Charles Percy for their leadership on behalf of this legislation.
Last week, I signed into law the Ethics in Government Act, which will require financial disclosure on the part of high-level Government officials and will subject the President and Vice President and others to the scrutiny of a Special Prosecutor if substantial allegations of criminal misconduct are ever made. The Presidential Records Act of 1978 carries forward my commitment to making sure that our Government is not above the law, and merits the trust of the people from whom a President and his Government derive their power.
Note: A enacted, H.R. 13500 is Public Law 95-591, approved November 4.
Jimmy Carter, Statement on Signing Into Law H.R. 13500, the Presidential Records Act of 1978 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243935