Sources for texts of presidential actions & public remarks
As we undergo executive (and legislative)-branch transitions on a federal level, there are a few resources I’d like to highlight.
Presidential documents, including presidential proclamations and executive orders, are published in the Federal Register, which is published every weekday by the Office of the Federal Register, which is part of the National Archives. There are a few sites for the Federal Register:
- The Office of the Federal Register’s site https://www.federalregister.gov/
- Within FDSys (maintained by the Government Publishing Office), there’s a section for the Federal Register
- There’s also a Federal Register section in GPO’s https://www.govinfo.gov/ Govinfo.gov platform (still in beta)
In its “About the Federal Register” section, GPO says, in the “Presidential Documents Section in the Federal Register” paragraph:
This section of the Federal Register contains documents signed by the President and submitted to the Office of the Federal Register for publication. Presidential documents include Proclamations and Executive Orders, as well as other documents such as determinations, letters, memorandums, and reorganization plans. The documents are compiled annually in title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
I had to pull out my gov docs textbook, Tapping the Government Grapevine, 3rd edition, to find the distinction between executive orders and presidential proclamations. Judith Schiek Robinson says,
Legally, proclamations and executive orders are the same…In actual use, most executive orders are working documents often used to command government agencies or officials, while proclamations address the general public (p. 130)
Periodically the Office of the Federal Register publishes The Compilation of Presidential Documents, which includes remarks made by the president that don’t have the force of law, and a bunch of other things described here. The Compilation of Presidential Documents is available at GPO’s FDSys site, and its Govinfo site (https://www.govinfo.gov/app/collection/CPD)
You can also look at the White House’s web site, particularly the section labelled “Briefing Room.”
There is a lag time between when executive orders are signed, and when they are published. I don’t know if there’s ever been a standard lag time. The Federal Register of Jan 30 contains executive orders and proclamations signed on Jan 24 and 25.
Did the old White House site just disappear?
Executive branch websites reflect the priorities of the current President, just as executive branch tangible publications do. Congressional publications reflect the priorities of current members of Congress. This is something I try to remember to tell patrons when I’m talking about government publications.
With tangible publications, literal “paper trails” of previous Presidential administrations’ priorities exist (thanks, in part, to the Federal Depository Library Program, in which 19 Wisconsin libraries participate). The development of systems to keep a historical record of electronic documents is a process many of us have been alive to witness, and it’s still ongoing. One example of a process to capture electronic government information, the End of Term Web Archive, has been led, in large part, by libraries. It has preserved websites from administration changes in 2008, 2012, and 2016.
You can view an archived version of the White House website under Barack Obama’s administration at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov I don’t know how deep it goes, but I was able to view blog posts back to July 2010 and speeches and remarks back to January 2009 .
–Beth Harper, Government information/reference librarian, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison