DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – After all of the pomp and circumstance during last April’s dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, only now can people begin accessing some of the history held within the building’s walls.
Now that five years have passed since the nation’s 43rd President left office, the public can file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documents from his eight years in office.
Mary Neal of Dallas is among those who visited the library on Tuesday. “It’s wonderful,” she said about the opportunity for transparency. “There are probably a number of things we’d like to know about that we haven’t been informed about. So yeah, I think it’s great.”
The director of the Bush Library, Alan Lowe, said some 100 record requests had been received since Monday, the first day eligible. “It’s a good number, yes. We knew there would be great anticipation building up to this day… great interest in the records. So that’s a very good number and we’ve already starting processing as we speak.”
According to Lowe, professors, students, and journalists are among those who have asked for the former President’s speech files, excerpts of his daily diary, and correspondence with international leaders.
Experts believe the September 11th attacks, Iraq War, and Hurricane Katrina will be among the most requested topics.
SMU Political Science Associate Professor Matt Wilson suggests that the public be patient. “So if we want to really get the juiciest inside scoop, it’s unlikely to come at this five-year window,” he said. “That will be decades down the line when the most sensitive documents start to get released to the public.”
Wilson also warns that former President Bush and his family, along with the Obama administration, may fight to keep some of the Bush documents from being released. “The Obama administration might say, ‘Hey wait. There are good national security reasons why certain documents about let’s say the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, or September 11th, not be released right now.’”
Once members of the public file FOIA requests, the Library and Museum has 20 days to respond to the requestor.
Archivists must give both the sitting President, in this case Barack Obama, and former President Bush 30 days to review the information that was requested – before it is released. Both Presidents can claim executive privilege.
When the Bush Library opened May 1 of last year, officials released 200,000 pages of documents, which consisted mostly of policy memos and summaries of key policies.
You can submit a Freedom of Information Act request in an email, through the postal system, and in person.
Counting totals from the opening through last week, some 340,000 visitors have been to the Library and Museum. That number is higher than the 300,000 people officials had predicted would visit during its first year.
By the numbers the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum has:
- 70,000,000 paper records
- 80 terra bytes of electronic records
- 1 billion pages of emails
- 4 million photos
- 43,000 artifacts
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