The National Archives and Records Administration and Presidential Transitions: Legal and Archival Perspectives

Curated Conversations - October 2022

On a recent episode of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, Maddow referred to the archivists at NARA as being like “warm fuzzy zoo animals.” We think not. Come hear our speakers and decide for yourself.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been legally responsible for the preservation of all presidential records at the end of an administration since passage of the Presidential Records Act in 1978. However, NARA’s role in managing presidential materials dates back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt announcing his gift to the government of his papers and a Presidential Library and Museum at Hyde Park, New York, in 1939. Since then, Congress has passed (and amended) legislation on both presidential libraries and presidential materials including physical and electronic files, recordings, and other materials. This session will provide an overview of relevant legislation and will discuss how NARA has dealt with presidential transitions since President Reagan, the first president whose records were subject to the Presidential Records Act.

Jason R. Baron, J.D., is Professor of the Practice at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies. He was formerly head of litigation at NARA and prior to that was a trial attorney and senior counsel at the Department of Justice. In those capacities, he acted as lead counsel on landmark lawsuits involving the preservation of White House email and also played a leading role in improving federal electronic recordkeeping policies. He is a recipient of the Justice Tom C. Clark Outstanding Government Lawyer Award given by the Federal Bar Association as well as the international Emmett Leahy Award for his work on records and information management. He has appeared on media outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, NBC News, Good Morning America, and NPR’s All Things Considered to discuss controversial issues relating to federal and presidential records.

Nancy Kegan Smith worked for NARA as an archivist from 1973 until her retirement in 2012, beginning at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. In 1989, she moved to NARA headquarters in Washington, DC, first working for the Office of Presidential Libraries and later becoming Director of the Presidential Materials Division, which advises the White House on presidential and first ladies’ records and gift issues and moves of presidential records. Since retiring, she has written and spoken on presidential records, presidential libraries, and first ladies and their papers. She is currently Vice President of the First Ladies Association for Research and Education. Among her publications are Modern First Ladies: Their Documentary Legacy and a co-author of the first college textbook on first ladies, U.S. First Ladies Their Lives and Legacies with Anita Mc Bride and Dr. Diana Carlin.

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