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Nixon’s Ghost: The Impact of the Presidential Records Act on the National Archives and Records Administration


In 1978, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act, which declared that all future presidential records were public property and were to be transferred to the National Archives following the end of an administration. Prior to 1978, presidential records were the personal property of the President. While Presidents had been donating records to the National Archives since the times of Franklin Roosevelt, Presidents were legal owners and creators of these records. Making presidential records public property has created unintended consequences for the processing of presidential records. The PRA was passed with the intention of guaranteeing access to presidential records. However, with each new presidential administration comes a new executive order that strengthens or weakens the PRA. Also, the PRA contains a personal records clause that decrees that Presidents own some records, but not others. This has created a gray area where the President and those in his administration can still maintain control over some of their records. While the PRA is a much-needed piece of legislation, it poses some problems in its implementation that has not secured the access to presidential records. For these issues to be resolved, I suggest that the personal records clause needs stricken from the law and all records need to be turned over to the National Archives at the end of an administration.

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