This summary and accompanying memos were prepared for Government Operations Committee Chairman Jack Brooks for committee meetings held on July 19, 1978. The committee was considering H.R. 13500, the Presidential Records Act (PRA), legislation that would prescribe how presidential records are collected and retained, and how the public can access them. Bill Jones, Brooks’s administrative aide and later general counsel for the committee, created this “chairman’s notebook,” along with many others, for each day of committee business. Binders contained summaries of legislation, related material and annotated memos, amendments being offered by Members, anticipated votes, and even index cards containing the appropriate procedural statements the chairman should read during meetings.
The notebook materials for H.R. 13500 included a brief summary of the bill and its amendments, as well as two memos. One memo came from President Jimmy Carter’s White House. It was written by counsel Robert Lipshutz and Hugh Carter, Jr., special assistant to the President, and it raised objections to the legislation. Following this memo in the notebook was a staff analysis prepared by the Government Information and Individual Rights Subcommittee responding to each of the objections raised by Lipshutz and Carter, Jr.
The PRA was a response to President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal and his plans to have Oval Office recordings destroyed after they were transferred to the General Services Administration. The Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974, which applied only to the Nixon Presidential Materials, had subsequently ensured the preservation of “materials related to the Abuse of Governmental Power and the constitutional and statutory duties of the President and his White House staff.” But the PRA, enacted November 4, 1978, provided broader authority for records preservation. The intent of the PRA was to protect the historically valuable records of the presidency by making them the property of the federal government, rather than the personal property of the President as they had been previously, ensuring that a President could not unilaterally destroy or obstruct access to records. The law has applied to all records created by Presidents and Vice Presidents since January 20, 1981.