Bureaucratic foot-dragging is an old Washington D.C. practice and certainly not something that President George W. Bush's aides invented. However, Bush and his administration are proving they can be as adept at that maneuver as their White House predecessors.
Bush administration officials are employing the old hinder-block-and-delay strategy in their non-compliance with the Presidential Records Act of 1978. That law stipulates that White House records from Ronald Reagan's administration should have been released last January, 12 years after he left office.
The release was first delayed until June 21. It was then delayed until Aug. 31 and now, a third extension is being sought for "a few additional weeks."
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales said the reason the extension is being sought is to review records and consult representatives of former presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton. George W. Bush's officials also state they want to do the job right because the release of the Reagan papers, the first released under the law, will set a precedent.
Our view is that the eight-month delay in the release of the records is already setting a bad precedent. At various times, presidents of either major political party will be tempted to delay the release of these papers if they feel the contents could prove embarrassing to their administration. If further delays are granted this year, the next president who's supposed to release records will point to the exemptions that this president was given.
There are 68,000 pages of Reagan's White House records and there likely will be plenty of fodder for both his critics and his supporters. That's going to be true for the first President Bush, President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush.
It's puzzling the review of these records wasn't completed during the 12-year interim period. That would seem to have been plenty of time to complete the project.
The Presidential Records Act was passed after former President Richard Nixon, who was implicated in the Watergate scandal, attempted to hold on to his records and tape recordings. Congress wisely contended that data should be public information after a reasonable time. The law says the time to release the Reagan documents has come and gone. Their release should be expedited as quickly as possible.
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