This Friday will mark one week of Donald Trump’s presidency, and he has already had a tremendous affect on the issues our country is facing. At the time of this writing, Donald Trump has signed Executive Orders 13765-13768. That’s four executive orders in less than one week, and I would not be surprised if he signs more by Friday.
For comparison, Barack Obama signed five, Bill Clinton signed two, George H. W. Bush signed one and George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan both signed none during the first weeks of their first terms as president.
The high number of Executive Orders Trump has signed sets a tone of unilateralism for his presidency. However, considering Trump’s history in business, these executive orders make sense. He’s a business man, and business men understand the importance of time and the necessity of making hard decisions. If only running the United States of America were comparable to running a business.
In addition to the executive orders, Trump has signed several presidential memorandums. And if you need an explanation of what a presidential memorandum is, what kind of power it has and how many past presidents have signed, you’re in good company.
According to an article published by USA Today, presidential memorandums carry the same authority as executive orders and have seemingly been used interchangeably by past presidents. The key difference seems to be that presidential memorandums are more difficult to track.
There is no numbering system for presidential memorandums and, according to my research, the National Archives website does not have a detailed breakdown of presidential memorandums by presidency, like they do for executive orders.
This seems like a dangerous policy. Record-keeping is an important part of government accountability. We have the right to know what has been passed and when and by whom.
To give an example of what a presidential memorandum can do, the hiring freeze on Federal civilian employees was achieved through a presidential memorandum, signed on Jan. 23, 2017. Even Trump himself gets presidential memorandums and executive orders confused, as evinced by a Facebook post he wrote on the day the hiring freeze memorandum was passed. He incorrectly referred to the memorandum as an order.
To add more confusion to the tangle of power and terminology, I also cannot find a listing of memorandums Obama signed on any official website, even though his presidency ended only a week ago. The best source on presidential memorandums seems to be Wikipedia, which describes a few of Obama’s memorandums on his page and has a tracker for President Trump’s memorandums.
Additionally, if you want to read the latest executive orders Trump has signed, you’re going to have to wait. WhiteHouse.gov and Archives.gov do not have the text of the executive order available to view on the day it is signed. The fastest source for these texts is the University of California’s The American Presidency Project website.
I would argue that an official government website should have both the memorandums and orders available for citizens to view at the time the president signs them. And, even more importantly, there needs to be a clearer line between the power of an order and the power of a memorandum. The current system leaves a loophole that could be used to conceal information from the American people, and we need to have access to this information, perhaps now more than ever.