< President Obama has issued a form of executive action known as the presidential memorandum more often than any other president in history — using it to take unilateral action even as he has signed fewer executive orders.
When these two forms of directives are taken together, Obama is on track to take more high-level executive actions than any president since Harry Truman battled the “Do Nothing Congress” almost seven decades ago, according to a USA TODAY review of presidential documents.
Obama has issued executive orders to give federal employees the day after Christmas off, to impose economic sanctions and to determine how national secrets are classified. He’s used presidential memoranda to make policy on gun control, immigration and labor regulations. Tuesday, he used a memorandum to declare Bristol Bay, Alaska, off-limits to oil and gas exploration.
Like executive orders, presidential memoranda don’t require action by Congress. They have the same force of law as executive orders and often have consequences just as far-reaching. And some of the most significant actions of the Obama presidency have come not by executive order but by presidential memoranda. >
Obama has made prolific use of memoranda despite his own claims that he’s used his executive power less than other presidents. “The truth is, even with all the actions I’ve taken this year, I’m issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years,” Obama said in a speech in Austin last July. “So it’s not clear how it is that Republicans didn’t seem to mind when President Bush took more executive actions than I did.”
Obama has issued 195 executive orders as of Tuesday. Published alongside them in the Federal Register are 198 presidential memoranda — all of which carry the same legal force as executive orders. >
< Obama issued three presidential memoranda after the Sandy Hook school shooting two years ago. They ordered federal law enforcement agencies to trace any firearm that’s part of a federal investigation, expanded the data available to the national background check system, and instructed federal agencies to conduct research into the causes and possible solutions to gun violence.
Two more recent memos directed the administration to coordinate an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system — a move that congressional Republicans say exceeded his authority. Of the dozens of steps Obama announced as part of his immigration plan last month, none was accomplished by executive order.
Executive orders are numbered — the most recent, Executive Order 13683, modified three previous executive orders. Memoranda are not numbered, not indexed and, until recently, difficult to quantify.
Kenneth Lowande, a political science doctoral student at the University of Virginia, counted up memoranda published in the Code of Federal Regulations since 1945. In an article published in the December issue of Presidential Studies Quarterly, he found that memoranda appear to be replacing executive orders. >