(NewsNation) — Every administration since President Ronald Reagan has mishandled classified documents, a National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) official told lawmakers in March.
At a private U.S. House Intelligence Committee meeting on March 1, representatives questioned NARA leaders with the goal of gaining a baseline understanding of the archival process and how it relates to presidential transitions and classified documents.
According to the meeting’s transcript, NARA Chief Operating Officer William Bosanko, who has overseen all archival operations for the past decade, said, “I will tell you that — so every (Presidential Records Act) administration from Reagan forward, we have found classified information in unclassified boxes.”
Classified documents discovered at the homes of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump, and former Vice President Mike Pence sparked a renewed focus on how presidential records and classified documents are handled.
Bosanko told the House committee that each president does not get a standalone facility for their presidential records and detailed that Trump’s are being kept somewhere in Washington. Bosanko explained that before former President Barack Obama, most presidents were building libraries with specific storage places for some materials.
But Bosanko says Congress increased the endowment requirements for presidents wishing to build their libraries and that starting with Obama, there was not a decision to build that kind of facility for the documents.
Bosanko believes keeping all classified material from presidents in Washington is the way to go and explained that NARA has started the process of transferring documents from libraries to Washington.
“It is better from a safeguarding perspective. It is more efficient and effective for declassification. So, building (Sensitive Compartmented Information Files) all over the United States is not a sustainable model for us,” Bosanko said.
But, the issues surrounding the storage and handling of classified documents seem to sprawl past the Oval Office.
Mark Bradley, the fifth director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) at NARA, said that sometimes, once members of Congress retire, they deposit some papers and materials in libraries for collections. Bradley said since 2010, his office has been called by libraries roughly 80 times about the collections, including classified material that belongs to the U.S. government.
“When these records are being processed, librarians know to call us,” Bradley said. “We dispatch a team to go retrieve them and bring them back to Washington.”
Bradley said Edmund Muskie, who served as both a longtime U.S. senator from Maine and former President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of state, had taken 98 classified documents that were later retrieved by archivists from Bates College.
According to Bosanko, NARA is storing 555,000 cubic feet of classified national security information.
“You are looking at 5 1/2 football fields, floor-to-ceiling shelving of classified (documents),” he said.
Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said mishandling of government material is a “systemic problem” for the U.S.
“Dozens of former Members of Congress and senior government officials have taken classified documents with them after leaving office and donated them to libraries and universities across the country. This is a systemic problem that dates to the Reagan Administration. We need a better way for elected officials who are leaving office — in both the Executive Branch and Legislative Branch — to properly return classified material and protect the integrity of our national security,” Turner said in a statement.
Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have reportedly introduced a bill proposing that the National Archives be required to clear any documents a president wants as personal papers. The House Intelligence Committee is still considering new legislation on classified documents.