Get Presidential Directive essential facts below. View Videos or join the Presidential Directive discussion. Add Presidential Directive to your PopFlock.com topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
instruction or declaration issued by the President of the United States
A presidential directive, or executive action, is a written or oral[note 1] instruction or declaration issued by the president of the United States, which may draw upon the powers vested in the president by the U.S. Constitution, statutory law, or, in certain cases, congressional and judicial acquiescence. Such directives, which have been issued since the earliest days of the federal government, have become known by various names, and some have prescribed forms and purposes. Presidential directives remain in effect until they are revoked, which the president is free to do. The classification of presidential directives is not easily done, as the distinction between the types can be quite arbitrary, arising from convenience and bureaucratic evolution, and none are defined in the Constitution. Furthermore, the different types may overlap. As one legal scholar put it: "it is a bit misleading to overclassify presidential directives as comprising separate and distinct 'types' just because they have different headings at the top of the first page." In terms of legal applicability, what matters is the substance of the directive, not the form, unless a certain kind of directive is specifically required by relevant statute.
Checks and balances
Presidential directives may be challenged in court or through congressional action. Congress may revoke or modify a presidential directive, directly or indirectly, but only insofar as the directive is based on congressional legislation. Direct repeal by congress is quite rare in modern times, because it may be necessary to override a presidential veto, which requires an elusive two-thirds supermajority in both chambers.
Two of the oldest and best known directives are the Executive Order and the presidential proclamation. In 1907, the State Department undertook to retroactively number executive orders and presidential proclamations. The denomination of "executive order" was largely due to the fact that the first executive order they chose to number (from 1862) was titled "Executive Order Establishing a Provisional Court in Louisiana". It was an imperfect exercise, however, and many directives were missed. The Federal Register Act of 1935 required both executive orders and proclamations to be published in the Federal Register, with few exceptions. The proper form and routing of executive orders and presidential proclamations has been governed since 1962 by E.O. 11030, as amended.
The first presidential proclamation appeared in October 1789 declaring a day of thanksgiving at the request of congress. The use of executive orders also stretches back at least to 1789.
The first directive called an administrative order appeared in 1940. Subsequent directives denominated as administrative orders have taken a variety of forms, and have sometimes overlapped with other kinds of presidential directives. A researcher for the Congressional Research Service in 2008 found that in "general, indications are that, during at least the past 40 years, presidential directives published in the Federal Register in forms other than those of executive orders, or proclamations, have been denominated as administrative orders when reproduced in CFR Title3 compilations." These forms included: "delegations of authority, determinations, directives, findings, letters, memoranda, and orders". A research guide by the National Archives defined administrative orders as "unnumbered signed documents through which the President of the United States conducts the administrative operations of the Federal Government" which "include but are not limited to memoranda, notices, determinations, letters, and messages".
National security directive
NSDD 14, when it was partially declassified. The directive is now declassified in full.
Directives commonly known as national security directives have been issued within the National Security Council by every president since Truman in various forms, involving foreign, military and domestic policies. Generally, such directives are highly classified, are not required to be published in the Federal Register, and are available to the public only after "a great many years" have elapsed. Unlike executive orders, national security directives are usually directed only to the National Security Council and the most senior executive branch officials, and embody foreign and military policy-making guidance rather than specific instructions.
HSPD-8 directed Federal agencies to prepare in certain ways for emergencies.
HSPD-9 established policy to protect against attacks on food and agriculture.
HSPD-12 assigned responsibility for setting standards for the identification to be shown by persons entering federal government buildings. The technical standard FIPS 201 was developed to satisfy this requirement.
Presidential findings[note 2] are required by statute to be written and signed before covert activities are undertaken, and they must be reported to congress as soon as possible, before the covert action in question has been initiated. The finding must also be submitted to certain congressional committees. Presidential findings, given their sensitive nature, are classified upon issuance.
Presidents often make oral announcements which can be classified as presidential directives, such as Bill Clinton's inauguration of the National Performance Review on 3March 1993. Although they are not included in the Federal Register, they are often recorded in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents.
Designations of Officials. First appearing in 1941, these are used to designate individuals to hold specified official positions, and have also been used to delegate presidential authority.
Letters on Tariffs and International Trade. These directives have appeared in the Federal Register from its first publication in 1936 to 1979. All but the last were addressed to the Secretary of the Treasury.
Military Order. Twelve military orders were issued between 1939 and 1948. No such directives were published in the Federal Register until 2001, when George W. Bush issued a controversial military order on the detention, treatment, and trial by military tribunals of noncitizens alleged to be terrorists.
Presidential certificate. Only one such instrument under that designation, from 1940, has appeared in the Federal Register, although there is evidence that similar certificates had been issued earlier.
Regulations. Nine directives so designated were published in the Federal Register between 1939 and 1945, and most of them cited explicit statutory authority for their issuance.
Presidential General License. Only one such directive has been published in the Federal Register. Issued shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, it permitted certain transactions which would otherwise be prohibited by the Trading with the Enemy Act.
Presidential Interpretation. Two presidential interpretations appeared in the Federal Register in 1942-1943, although they were not actually presidential directives, but rather interpretations of earlier ones.
Dwyer, Catherine M. (November-December 2002). "The U.S. Presidency and national security directives: An overview". Journal of Government Information. 29 (6): 410-419. doi:10.1016/j.jgi.2002.05.001.
Schmeckebier, Laurence F.; Eastin, Roy B. (1939). Government Publications and Their Use. Brookings Institution (2nd ed.). Washington, D.C.: Washington, D. C. Proclamations and executive orders, pp. 321-327. hdl:2027/mdp.39015033642011.
Cooper, Philip J. (2014). By Order of the President: The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action (2nd ed.). University Press of Kansas. ISBN978-0700620128.
Dodds, Graham G. (2013). Take Up Your Pen: Unilateral Presidential Directives in American Politics. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN978-0812245110.
Mayer, Kenneth R. (2002). With the Stroke of a Pen: Executive Orders and Presidential Power (New ed.). Princeton University Press. ISBN978-0691094991.