Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation December 10-11, 2012
Closed Session, December 10, National Archives and Records Administration
Review of Department of State Declassification Guidelines
Director of the National Declassification Center (NDC) Sheryl Shenberger welcomed everyone to the NDC conference room at 9:45 a.m. She then discussed several features of that day’s schedule and turned the meeting over to Bill Fischer, Chief of the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) Systematic Review Program (SRP) Division. Fischer indicated that he had asked two experienced IPS reviewers—Nicholas Murphy and Tom Johnson—to provide an overview of the Department of State’s declassification guidelines.
Murphy began by highlighting the nature of the review work undertaken by IPS, which included not only review of documents for inclusion in the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) but also 25 year review of both paper and electronic documents and review of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Mandatory Review (MDR) cases. IPS also is responsible for special projects, such as the project on human rights in Chile and also for document production to the Congress. All reviewers, Murphy included, are retired Foreign Service Officers. Murphy described in some detail the promulgation of the current classification and declassification guides including a fundamental review of guidelines mandated by Executive Order 13526. As part of this process, which the Department took very seriously, Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy (the senior agency official for E.O. 13526) ordered Assistant Secretaries to ensure that all offices that create classified information review the revised guide to ensure that all necessary subjects are covered and obsolete material deleted. The process resulted in relatively few additional changes.
Murphy noted that the Executive Order gave the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) the authority to approve agencies’ 25-year declassification guides. In September, the ISCAP had approved the Department’s version with only slight changes. Murphy underscored that the Department’s guide is not prescriptive; as a result, the reviewers do enjoy some latitude. He added that reviewers have enough experience and expertise to make decisions to withhold only those materials that remain sensitive. Murphy commented that some time ago, the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) had interpreted a portion of the Executive Order to permit agencies to exempt material from automatic declassification at 25 years at the time it was created. During the current process of approving agencies’ 25 year declassification guides the ISCAP severely limited this authority in order not to weaken the concept of automatic declassification at 25 years unless material is specifically exempted on a document-by-document basis.
In reference to the guidelines, copies of which Murphy had circulated for discussion purposes, Committee Chair Richard Immerman inquired as to why the 25 year declassification guide was classified. Murphy explained that IPS had considered producing a declassified version. In its entirety, the guidelines merit classification that the individual points do not require.
Immerman asserted that the declassification guidelines address fundamental issues related to the declassification and release of foreign affairs records. He expressed his belief that publishing the declassification guidelines served the national interest; classifying these guidelines is to the detriment of the national interest. Murphy responded that there are some portions of the guidelines that ought to remain confidential. It is possible that portions of the guidelines could be rewritten in order for the document to be unclassified. Alternatively, it might be possible to produce a guide with a classified annex. Immerman commented that even rewriting some of this material would help, reiterating that it would be beneficial to have a publically-available guide.
Katie Sibley inquired if 75 years constituted a blanket maximum for a document to remain classified. Murphy responded that an agency could go to the ISCAP to get authority to extend classification of some information during review at 50 years out to 75 years. The State Department and a number of other agencies have done this. The E.O. also permits an agency to seek approval to extend classification beyond 75 years. The Department has not sought authority to do this. If there is information that should be extended past 75 years, the Department of State can approach ISCAP on an individual document or category basis.
Trudy Peterson asked Murphy if a policy existed concerning information related to defunct governments. Murphy noted that there is no blanket policy; IPS depends on its experienced reviewers to make this kind of decision. Some information in this category remains sensitive.
Reviewers who are performing FOIA and Mandatory reviews of contemporary records can access the results of the 25 year review of electronic files in order to determine if a specific document such as one concerning a defunct government, has been previously released. .
Robert McMahon, in reference to some of the categories featured in the declassification guidelines, asserted that it would be wonderful if the Department declassified the guide so that scholars can know the nature of the categories. McMahon reiterated the desirability of releasing a declassified version that would allow scholars to see how reviewers reach their decisions.
Murphy noted that the percentage of material withheld during 25 year review is relatively very small and then turned the presentation over to Johnson who, he said, would be better able to elaborate on this point. Johnson indicated that he worked as part of the reviewing team at the Department’s facility at Newington. All of the reviewers at Newington are retired FSOs with more than 25 years of experience in political, political-military, economic, and public affairs issues. Each reviewer, at the minimum, is fluent in one foreign language, which reduces the amount of foreign language referrals for certain languages. New When Actually Employed (WAE) reviewers receive a month of training before they are “unleashed” on records boxes. IPS expects reviewers to learn how to find answers. Johnson noted that it pays to be a fast reader. Reviewers are selected based on their powers of intuition, observation, and solid judgment. At regular intervals, they take courses on various topics germane to their work. Experts from other agencies also travel to Newington to discuss relevant issues with reviewers. Recently, he added, he has been speaking to agency representatives concerning the recognition of Department of State equities.
Each year, Johnson continued, the Department of State produces hundreds of thousands of pages of reports and cables. Transparency is key to the work of IPS; reviewers want to protect only that material that requires protection. Johnson commented that scholars produce thousands of books on foreign policy topics; IPS wants to facilitate research for both domestic and foreign scholars. The United States, he noted, is more transparent—in terms of making documentation available—than other nations.
Returning to a description of the review process, Johnson indicated that 35 reviewers work at the Newington facility, while other reviewers are located at other facilities. A small group of reviewers is at the NDC. In addition, David Adamson has oversight responsibility for 15 reviewers of the electronic cables. The reviewers at Newington focus primarily on paper review; electronic review is conducted elsewhere. The WAEs can review approximately 150 pages per hour of electronic records and 300 pages per hour of paper. Johnson emphasized that the records currently under review are records 25 years or older, adding that some of the material is significantly older. In one case, IPS received a batch of records dating to the 1820s. During the last year, IPS reviewed 2.5 million pages of paper records and 1 million pages of electronic records. The pipeline contains 15 million pages of paper records.
Immerman noted that part of the Committee’s concern is that the Department of State had fallen behind in its review. He explained that the impetus for arranging this session stemmed from both the Committee’s desire to obtain more insight from IPS and to facilitate cooperative problem-solving.
In response, Johnson noted that one box takes 10 hours to review. A complicated box might require 100 referrals, plus the attendant forms and collars. The declassification guidelines list 9 categories for exemption; unless a document has to be protected, a reviewer is obliged to “let it go.” More than 90 percent of exemptions fall into one of three categories. Johnson then discussed the percentages of documents referred to other agencies and the types of information contained within those records that necessitate referral. He commented that the armed services try to declassify as much as possible.
Peterson asked Johnson if IPS reviewers portion-mark records. Johnson indicated that they did not portion mark paper records. If one sentence contained sensitive information, the entire document remained classified. Jeff Charlston interjected that electronic records contained within the Remote Archives Capture (RAC) project, which covers materials at presidential libraries, can be redacted.
Johnson highlighted the fact that reviewers are working as rapidly and thoroughly as possible. “Perfection,” he noted, “is the enemy of the doable.” If IPS reviews and re-reviews records, it will never accomplish anything. Immerman asked Johnson if he thought the backlog would increase. Johnson responded affirmatively, adding that, eventually, IPS would be faced with the task of reviewing e-mails. A small percentage of these messages, he noted, require an inordinate amount of time.
Peterson inquired about the process employed when a researcher submits a FOIA request for a particular document to the National Archives. Don McIlwain responded that the National Archives contacts the Department of State to request a re-review only if the Department exempted the document.
Adamson indicated that most of what Tom Johnson stated also applied to the review of electronic records. There are differences in the processes, however. For example, electronic records are keyword searchable by anyone with internet access. Adamson noted that an increasing number of records must be reviewed without a corresponding increase in the number of reviewers. Susan Perdue asked Adamson if electronic tools existed that would allow reviewers to search for particular names. Adamson responded that electronic search tools are currently used to identify sensitive terms, including privacy information. Adamson stated that it might be possible to place a greater reliance on using automated processes to review the e-records, but this would likely involve assuming greater risk.
Discussion ensued concerning the assumption of greater risks. Immerman posed a hypothetical question related to a reviewer making an error in judgment: would there be any repercussions? The Committee then discussed the implications of improper releases. Charlston stated that the review process is designed for internal dialogue. Reviewers do not suffer any penalty for following the prescribed guidelines.
McIlwain, in preparation for the Committee’s visit to the NDC’s stack and working area, indicated that he would provide a road map of the NDC’s work. He noted that the NDC embodied interagency cooperation at its best, as the NDC included representatives from all major federal agencies. The Department of State constituted one of the NDC’s largest partners. He added that his first job at the National Archives, while an archives technician, included the indexing and withdrawal of Department of State records.
McIlwain then outlined the key processing steps used at the NDC. Records are first evaluated. If the records pass, the records enter into the indexing process. Records can, however, fail the evaluation process, requiring either further Department of Energy (DOE) review or submission to the Quality Assurance Review Team (QART). McIlwain indicated that David Mengel would discuss these various processes in greater detail following the tour.
At that point, Madeline Proctor led the Committee members and Office of the Historian (HO) management representatives on a tour of the NDC’s stack and working area.
Overall Declassification Effort Both at the National Declassification Center and in the 25-Year Systematic Review of Department of State Records
Following the tour, Mengel provided a detailed description of the overall declassification effort at the NDC. Noting that the Committee previously had received a briefing on the NDC’s functions, Mengel turned the Committee’s attention to progress made in processing the backlog. He commented that Shenberger had pushed to put metrics in place to ensure solid accounting; as a result, the NDC staff can ascertain the status of any given box in the process.
In response to a question posed by Immerman as to 60-year old records caught in the backlog, Mengel explained the reasons why some documents from the 1950s have not been made available to researchers. Review of these materials might have been completed in the early 1990s. At that time, there existed a tendency to overtab certain documents. In addition, other documents were incorrectly tabbed or equities were misidentified. The NDC is committed to resolving all of these issues. Mengel then returned to his progress update. The backlog, as of January 1, 2010, consisted of 366.9 million pages. As of November 30, 2012, the NDC has assessed 355.9 million pages. Of that number, 221.2 million pages have completed a quality assurance (QA) review; 64.6 million pages are pending a DOE review, 129 million pages are pending final segregation, and 91.6 million pages have completed all processing.
Mengel emphasized that the NDC is a collaborative effort and gave several examples to this effect. Personnel from eight agencies participate in daily evaluation team activities. The NDC Advisory Panel, consisting of office-level heads from relevant agencies, met in April and would meet again in mid-December.
Returning to a discussion of priorities, Mengel reviewed the current situation. Approximately 15 million classified pages are accessioned to NARA annually. NARA is able to release approximately 11 million pages to the public each year. The backlog of classified records continues to grow by more than 4 million pages a year. Mengel noted that the average cycle time from project creation to open shelf was 267 days, with a high of 7 years. In an effort to reduce review and processing time and improve the work flow process, the NDC established a Workflow Management Team (WMT), responsible for tracking the status of records. The NDC also collects information concerning the overall review status and Kyl–Lott certification in order to determine which QA process should be employed. Mengel listed the four QA processes: evaluation, Kyl–Lott Evaluation Team (KET), QART, remand. Referencing some of his earlier figures, Mengel noted that 10 million pages still require assessment.
In providing additional detail about the quality assurance process, Mengel explained that evaluations are conducted by an interagency team consisting of the originating agency, NARA, DOE, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or other intelligence community (IC) members. The team then samples 10 percent of 10 percent of boxes in the larger collections and focuses on referrals for specific information. Only those records that have completed a Kyl–Lott review are evaluated. Eighty-five percent of these records pass this step. Mengel stressed that prior to the NDC’s creation, 100 percent of pages were reviewed. Immerman asked if it was correct that 15 percent of the records sent to evaluation require further review; Mengel responded in the affirmative, adding that these records are either sent to QART or remanded. QART reviews are undertaken by agency representatives to review those records that fail the evaluation process or are part of a high-risk collection. QART also employs an expanded sampling strategy: an additional 10–25 percent of non-sampled records are reviewed.
At this point, McMahon noted that McIlwain, at a previous Committee meeting, had indicated that the NDC backlog includes records from the 1940s. Mengel reiterated his earlier point: prior to the establishment of the NDC, 100 percent of pages were reviewed. McMahon asked if these records had been re-reviewed at some point; Mengel indicated that they had. McMahon inquired as to whether the re-review was necessary due to an improper first review; Mengel again answered in the affirmative, noting that the re-reviewers would have found Kyl–Lott equities. Continuing, McMahon asked if the problem stemmed from the release of records that should have remained classified. Mengel noted that the re-review had focused on classified documents that were improperly declassified. Returning to an overview of QART, Mengel commented that the QART originally met every month; these sessions have now been reduced to once every 2 months. Remediation is conducted by the originating agency when records are newly-identified, if the QA process detects systemic review errors, or if the records require Kyl–Lott review. Mengel indicated that, to date, 221 million pages have completed QA review. He then explained that the KET is an effort by interagency teams to complete the page-level reviews required under Kyl–Lott. Certain series can be tagged during the review as “highly-unlikely” and forwarded to evaluation. These determinations can be made during the KET reviews. Records are reviewed for missed equity. KET currently averages a review of 553 thousand pages per week; it has completed the review of 26 million pages to date. Sixty-one million pages have been identified as still requiring page-level review, highly-unlikely certification, or explanatory documentation.
The improvements to the QA process resulted in a new choke point in terms of withdrawal and indexing. Additional modifications designed to streamline data input allowed the NDC to index 3.8 million pages per month as contrasted to 284 thousand pages. During the period from January 2010 to November 30, 2012, the NDC indexed 86 million pages. Of that, the NDC declassified and released 50 million pages and exempted or referred 36 million pages, for a release rate of 58 percent. Mengel noted that the release rate does correlate to specific record groups (RG). Immerman asked as to the length of time it usually takes to make the records available, following the conclusion of the indexing process. Langbart responded that the records need to finish this process before they are released to his unit, where the records are reviewed for other information. Records are not made available to the public until archival processing occurs, i.e. the records must be described and this information entered into the Access to Archival Databases (AAD). Peterson interjected that the use of the term “declassification” does not mean that the records are immediately available to researchers; indeed, it means that the records have been declassified in advance of a secondary review and archival processing. Langbart added that review and processing can be performed on demand, as the result of a FOIA request.
McMahon indicated that it would be helpful if the NDC would provide the Committee with a selection of reviewed, yet still classified, records to allow the Committee members to view the types of decisions and judgment calls reviewers must make. Statistics, he continued, are not as helpful as seeing actual documents. Mengel again noted that some of the earlier reviewers over-tabbed documents, but he believed that more recent reviews had corrected this problem. McMahon expressed his support for those individuals responsible for declassification. The Committee, he noted, does not “lose sleep” over documents that contain information that must be withheld; rather, the members are concerned about other declassification issues. Mengel reiterated that the NDC did “push back” on over-tabbing. Immerman explained that the Committee members, as part of their mandate, must assure their constituencies that the withheld materials are legitimately withheld. He suggested that if one would poll members of the academic community, many would insist that agencies over-classified records in the past. Immerman supported McMahon’s suggestion that the NDC provide the Committee with a sampling of records for the sake of greater clarity. McMahon proposed that the NDC furnish a few dozen documents that have been withheld and then walk the Committee members through the decision-making process. Neil Carmichael explained that some of the records had been originally withheld due to problems with equity identification. Immerman responded that scholars often file FOIA for particular documents, only to receive documents containing information that should not have been classified. It is this particular issue that concerns historians specializing in the history of U.S. foreign relations. McMahon added that he could not believe that much policy and information dating to the 1950s could still be considered sensitive.
Carmichael expanded on Mengel’s comments regarding indexing, underscoring that the NDC had indexed 63 million pages during 2012. The NDC had embraced expedited processing. As a result, the NDC would no longer index certain categories of materials, segregate specific materials, or use envelopes for withdrawn items. The NDC had started or continued printing barcodes or ID numbers on each document, completing the FDDS, automating withdrawn folder printing, using labels, and increasing the number of printers. Carmichael also listed the type of information required for indexing documents: the document type, page number, file type, and date created.
Immerman then asked Mengel if he believed the NDC would meet the deadline specified by President Obama’s directive. Mengel responded that the NDC still intended to meet the deadline; if this proved impossible, the NDC needed to ensure that the review of the backlog would be complete.
Ken Stein then proceeded to give his report. He indicated that he had last appeared before the Committee during the early 2000s. Stein referenced the inadvertent declassification of Department of State and Department of Defense (DOD) records, accessioned by NARA and made available to the public from 1995 to 1997 by NARA, the Department of State, and DOD. He commented that the review of this problem had concluded in 2006, and several reports outlining this issue had been released. Approximately 1,000 Department of State documents contained Restricted Data (RD)/Formerly Restricted Data (FRD). DOE had agreed in late 2009 to assist the National Archives with clearing out the backlog. Approximately 35 DOE reviewers go into the stacks to find RD/FRD material missed during review. He noted that 3,000 documents, out of 150 million pages reviewed, contained missed RD/FRD. Twenty-five percent was marked at origin. Stein underscored that DOE is committed to doing as much as possible, in terms of reviewing the backlog, before 2013. Referencing the earlier discussion on over-tabbing, Stein explained that if one raises this as an issue, the tendency would be to overcorrect to the other extreme, resulting in missed information.
McMahon asked Stein if the DOE reviewers pursue 100 percent accuracy in identifying missed information. Stein responded that the reviewers try to find everything. DOE reviewers take what agencies have already completed and add value to it. If another agency’s reviewer has tabbed information in a box, the DOE reviewer will examine the entire box.
Immerman then pressed Stein to provide his definition of risk management. Stein responded: “to make as much available as possible, safely.” He continued that DOE wanted to correct problems so that these documents can be released. If systemic problems are detected, those records are pushed back for review.
Several Committee members asked Stein about inadvertent releases and the DOE response to such releases.
In response to Immerman’s question regarding the impact Kyl–Lott had on the rate of reviewing the backlog, Mengel explained that the quality assurance certification required by law has slowed down the rate of review. Stein added that a large number of documents are sent through the process; everyone must comply with the law as some of this information should not be released.
Deputy Historian David Herschler brought up the issue of redundancy in terms of the DOE review. Stein indicated that DOE trains reviewers in other agencies; more than 3,000 reviewers have been trained and should be capable of identifying this information. He added that if the agencies had fully complied in the early 1990s, those 3,000 documents would not have been released. The process, he continued, should function with zero inadvertent releases. Mengel asserted that Stein had been instrumental in the early stages of establishing the NDC. DOE provided the necessary personnel, worked long hours, and kept pace. Stein had held up to his end of the arrangement.
The Committee then adjourned for lunch at 12:25 p.m.
Status of Processing and Opening of Department of State Records at the National Archives
Immerman called the session to order at 1:30 p.m. He then asked Bill Mayer for his report.
Mayer extended his welcome to the Committee, indicating that he had joined the National Archives in June 2012. His arrival coincided with an overall transformation of NARA. Mayer explained that Archivist of the United States David Ferriero intended to create a dynamic, national program of research services that would connect the 15 regional archives and the Washington facilities. He added that Ferriero had established a new leadership team, of which he was part. Mayer noted that he had just concluded a visit to the Kansas City regional facility. Continuing, he stated that RG 59 and RG 84 are the most heavily used records at the National Archives, commenting that NARA had processed 95 percent of the unclassified and declassified Department of State records. He highlighted two major projects undertaken by the Archives: the Agency for International Development (AID) processing project (RG 286) and the United States Information Agency (USIA) quality review (RG 306). These efforts had led to improved researcher access to these records. Mayer noted that NARA continues to accession the Department’s lot files, which are complex in nature, and added that the Department’s records are split between the lot files and the Central Foreign Policy Files (CFPF). NARA had received the hard copy Department records through 1979 and was awaiting transfer of the remaining 1977–1979 electronic records. He noted that previously the Department had transferred a year’s worth of records at a time; it remained unclear how the process would function with the transfer of more than one year’s worth of records. Mayer commented that personnel from NARA and the Department of State planned to discuss, in the near future, the issue of reviewing documents for RD/FRD. Lastly, Mayer stated that the Archives continued to work on reintegrating recently-declassified documents into the larger, declassified body of records.
Immerman thanked Mayer for his report and asked if the Committee had any questions.
McMahon stated that the goal of Executive Order 13526 is to move to a 25-year line for the declassification of formerly-classified records. At this point, the line is at 35 years for the 1977 records. He asked Mayer how the Department of State and the National Archives could make any progress to move from a 35-year line to a 25-year line. Mayer responded that the deployment of new tools, such as ones that detect PII, impacted the processing rate.
Immerman commented that the Committee is responsible for writing an annual report on various aspects of its Congressional mandate. The report for calendar year (CY) 2012 would need to address the issues related to the transfer, processing, and availability of Department of State records. He asked Mayer if the Committee had to note that this trend—a longer timeframe—was likely to continue. Immerman wanted to ascertain if any hope existed that the process could be accelerated.
Fischer stated that the 25-year line places the responsibility upon the Department of State to review records before 25 years in order to exempt certain records. He added that once IPS completes its review of these materials, the records still require time for processing at the National Archives. Langbart interjected that NARA faced a resource problem in this regard. There are a staggering number of records across the record groups. Foreign affairs records receive the greatest priority in processing. Langbart anticipated that NARA would take a substantial budget hit if sequestration is implemented, adding that NARA simply does not have the resources at this time.
Tom Zeiler inquired as to the outcome if neither the Department of State nor the National Archives could reach a 25-or 30-year line. Fischer responded that if a series had not been exempted by ISOO or ISCAP, the records should be automatically declassified after 25 years. Langbart noted that it did not necessarily mean that the public could immediately access these records; it simply meant that the U.S. Government could not withhold these records from declassification without specified justifications under the Executive Order. Charlston commented that a 25-year old document that, for instance, had been reviewed by the Department of State but required review by an agency in the IC, could not automatically be declassified, while it was in the declassification review process. He added that third party agencies had a time limitation for completing their reviews.
Laura Belmonte expressed the Committee’s concern that NARA’s staff must be bolstered to be able to process and describe these materials. She asked Mayer if the Archives had attempted to resolve the resource deficiency. Mayer commented that the transformation and major reorganization of the National Archives had led to discussions of different ways of conducting business, all while maintaining expertise and preserving institutional memory. NARA’s leadership is forced with making difficult decisions in these and other areas. Generally, he noted, if resources are concentrated in one area, it is inevitable that another community will be underserved. The prioritization of CFPF processing does impact other collections. Improved description of CFPF records actually accelerates demand for these records. Langbart added that Archives staff had discovered that enhanced, online description of records in ARC had misled some researchers. For example, archivists have received requests from researchers asking to look at “X” records; the archivists, based on their expertise, determined that the researchers actually wanted to use “C” materials. He underscored that there is no substitute for good archival descriptions, finding aids, and archivists fluent in the records. Belmonte agreed, asserting that conversations with archivists cannot be replaced by online aids. The issues noted by Langbart would only intensify.
Sibley inquired as to whether any progress had been made. Langbart reiterated the volume and the complexity of the records received by the National Archives. In reference to Zeiler’s previous comment regarding a 30-year line, McMahon stated that for a 30-year line for making Department of State records available to be achieved by the end of 2020, the National Archives would need to make available the bulk of Department of State records through 1990. He asserted that objective could not be met. The Kyl–Lott reviews, budgetary concerns, and other issues meant that a 30-year line would not be approached anytime soon and a 25-year line would be impossible to reach.
Chris Naylor then described the bottleneck facing the National Archives, which included the transfer of the remaining Department of State records from the 1970s, the lengthy declassification process, and the NDC backlog. Immerman, noting that Mayer, Langbart, and Naylor had outlined many of the challenges, asked if the process could be fixed. If it could not, he asked if the Committee should stop invoking the 25- or 30-year lines. He commented that the Committee’s academic constituencies want to know whether or not NARA and the Department of State could meet these lines. “We’ve been misleading them [the academic community],” Immerman rued, “because we’ve been using these numbers.”
McMahon stated that, in terms of the release of formerly-classified materials, the United States was one of the most open governments. However, he questioned whether or not that was still the case, based on these issues associated with declassification, accessioning, processing, and availability of records. Mayer underscored that automatic declassification or the completion of the Department’s review does not equal access. He expressed his conviction that the United States Government is committed to openness.
Immerman noted that the Committee had argued for the transfer of all elements (paper and electronic) of the CFPF for a given year. The rationale, he explained, stemmed from the fact that a historian cannot work with simply a “slice” or segment of records from, for example, 1978. An incomplete assessment of a given foreign policy topic would emerge if a historian used only cables, rather than the P-reel microfilmed versions of letters and memoranda, in crafting a narrative or argument. The push for a complete transfer, he noted, had “created a problem in itself.” Continuing, he feared that the Committee was “grasping at straws.” Immerman wanted to believe that there would be some hope for the future. At this point, Langbart highlighted another issue. As the NDC works on the backlog, records continue to be accessioned by the National Archives. Records received since 2009 continue to sit.
Sibley asked if problems existed within the Department of State that held up records transfers. Fischer responded that the Department was keeping pace with its review of cables and P-reel indices. He added that some portions of the CFPF are ready for transfer, albeit a small portion. The P-reels continue to be problematic, he explained, because IPS has to print hard copies from the microfilm reels.
Zeiler asked if the Department could meet a 25-year line. Charlston and Fischer agreed that it could be met for paper and electronic review. Langbart reminded the Committee that the 25-year mark signified the point at which automatic declassification occurs. Even if a group of records is reviewed and transferred to the National Archives at 25 years, the documents must still go through various steps prior to release to the public. Langbart then reiterated the resource issue facing the National Archives. Zeiler inquired as how the Committee could be helpful in this regard, asking for specific suggestions for inclusion in the annual report. Immerman asked, generally, if a way existed to estimate the types of resources necessary for the National Archives to accelerate the process. Cognizant of the constraints of the current budget environment, Immerman stated that the Committee needed to offer specific recommendations, rather than simply stating that more resources are necessary. For example, did NARA require more physical space and/or employees?
In response, Fischer offered that more technology was needed. Langbart drew the Committee’s attention to the physical limitations of the Archives II (A2) building, which holds approximately 1.7 million feet of textual records. Naylor interjected that the National Archives had conducted studies on these resource issues; Immerman asked to receive copies of these studies. Langbart, by way of comparison, stated that when he began work at the National Archives, the Diplomatic Branch contained 26 people of which 22 handled all reference and processing work in the branch which held a smaller universe of records. In addition, the Archives contained other branches devoted to military (old and modern), judicial, industrial and social, and agricultural records. Currently, there are 35 archival staff to handle the processing of all of the textual records (military and civilian agencies) in the National Archives at College Park, and only 25 archival staff to handle all reference activities on textual records at the National Archives at College Park.
Fischer sketched out the reviewing challenges facing the Department. IPS has 33 reviewers dealing with multi-year record blocks, consisting of millions of pages and the microfilmed documents contained on the P-reels. If reviewing the P-reels is emphasized, IPS must correspondingly de-emphasize the reviewing of the decentralized lot files. Currently, a backlog of unclassified cables exists because reviewers are prioritizing review of the classified cables.
Sibley asked Mayer what would occur, in terms of improved processing, once the NDC resolved the records backlog. Mayer explained that the amount of data generated by federal agencies is increasing exponentially. The electronic realm presents new challenges. A working partnership between the Department of State and the National Archives is critical. Mayer asserted that he would not “concede defeat” and use words such as “hopeless” to describe the current situation. Both agencies must continue to think positively and engage in problem-solving. Referencing his earlier report, Mayer noted that the Archives is establishing a program in order to leverage its resources nationwide. In addition, NARA must look to archivists such as Langbart and Naylor and draw upon their expertise in order to move records to a 25-year line. Continuing, he noted that he would not commit to saying that NARA could or could not accomplish the opening of records at a 25 or 30 year line; however, he recognized the need to make records available within reason and within means.
Peterson, in reference to the new, broad universe of diplomatic records, inquired if the accessioning of Department of State records is better than other agencies. She also asked if the Archives had received a lot of paper records from other agencies in their transition to primarily electronic records. Mayer noted that, yes, the National Archives did receive a sizeable amount of records from other agencies. Naylor added that the volume and the quality of the records vary. He reemphasized the positive relationship the National Archives enjoyed with the Department of State. Recently, he had met with Fischer to ascertain what type of records the Department planned to send to the Archives in the near future. This type of meeting usually does not take place with representatives of other agencies. Naylor underscored the good collaboration between the National Archives and the Department of State on other records access issues. Other agencies, he commented, now want to transfer materials to the National Archives, even though these agencies have not been diligent in terms of records management. Over the past few years, the National Archives at College Park Archives accessioned approximately 50,000 feet of records a year. He noted that 30 years worth of records are awaiting transfer to the National Archives. Langbart agreed that the Department of State does its best to keep up to the line, given that it is also responsible for USIA and Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) records. He noted that the intelligence agencies generally have not transferred any records more recent than the 1950s. However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have exceeded expectations in their rate of transfer.
Fischer stressed that the National Archives and Department of State share common interests, despite differing priorities, adding that it was very difficult to make it all work. IPS is actively looking at how it reviews the 5-year block and the CFPF. He also noted that IPS wanted to explore the possibility of converting microfilm to a digital format for review purposes. Langbart reemphasized that none of this lends itself to simple solutions. Immerman then asked how the agencies could move to the next stage. He, also, did not wish to use the word “hopeless,” preferring to chart a way forward. In so doing, the agencies needed to identify specific resources. The Committee, for its part, needed to alert its constituencies as to the current situation.
Mayer indicated that the National Archives had identified changes in procedures to shorten the time needed for processing and archival description, commenting that this is an ongoing process. Naylor mentioned that in terms of processing and description, the unclassified and declassified documents for certain record groups are largely complete. The Archives does make an effort to stay on top of the foreign affairs records. Other records, however, have not been touched. Belmonte inquired as to the range of records from record groups 286 and 306 that are now available to the public. Lynn Goodsell mentioned that the records for the 1970s have been released and highlighted the fact that the electronic USIA public opinion surveys through 1991 are available.
Sibley asked if Mayer or others could provide any insight as to the DOJ and FBI transfers. Naylor indicated that the quantity of FBI records was such that the Archives had to dedicate an entire stack area to house these materials. Mayer added that storage space is expensive. Herschler inquired as to the transfer of electronic records. Goodsell noted that born-digital records are preserved digitally and then offered to researchers, after completing declassification, processing, and description. Herschler then asked about e-mails. Goodsell responded that e-mails have FOIA and other classified issues; she is not certain in terms of what a researcher receives when e-mails are requested. Mayer noted that each agency has a different method for dealing with electronic records. Langbart added that the Department of State was one of the first agencies to deal with a large amount of unstructured data; it is a harbinger of things to come. Immerman suggested that, in principle, the lessons learned from dealing with the Department of State’s electronic records could be applied to other agencies. Mayer emphasized the importance of developing partnerships with these agencies so that these discussions can take place. Charlston reiterated this point, adding that some of the tools Department of State reviewers use were devised as a result of interagency cooperation.
In response to Zeiler’s question as to whether or not a third Archives building would be constructed in the Washington area, Mayer noted that under General Services Administration (GSA) regulations, this would not be feasible. Fischer commented that there would be no improvement in the near future, although the presidential directive can nudge people and agencies in the right direction in terms of better records management. Mayer asserted that progress had been made, as high levels of processing of certain record groups does free NARA to focus on other priorities.
Historian Stephen Randolph expressed his gratitude for the Department of State–NARA partnership, as it is pivotal in driving the engine in which the Office of the Historian operates. He noted that, recently, the Office had disaggregated the entire Foreign Relations series production process and examined each segment, with an eye toward balancing the production chain. He asked if the National Archives performed this type of assessment as part of its strategic planning. If so, this type of assessment might provide the Committee with the data needed for framing a cogent request. Randolph suggested that the Archives attempt to get a “qualitative grip” on these components. Mayer responded that the Archives leadership is examining these metrics to discern what it takes to move forward.
Immerman asked Mayer if he could provide the Committee with some sort of detailed chart outlining the specific resources needed by the Archives. McMahon, in this vein, suggested that the Archives define a goal—a 30-year line—and then work backward from the goal to determine what resources it would take to reach the goal. The Archives might devise a plan to cover the next 8 years in advance of making 30-year old records available in 2020. McMahon believed that the Archives must “forget” about reaching a 25-year line. Langbart reminded the Committee that at the time transfer of the electronic records began, the Department (IPS) and NARA agreed that annual segments of the post-1973 records would be transferred to the Archives every 6 to 9 months, adding that Peggy Grafeld and Michael Kurtz attended Committee meetings and apprised the Committee of this schedule. The 1973 and 1974 records were transferred on time, but the 1975 records did take longer. Immerman asked if a new plan was necessary.
Peterson asked if Goodsell and Fischer had any additional comments that they would like to make. Goodsell indicated that she did not have any formal comments but noted that NARA was reviewing the 1977 cables and withdrawal cards. The Archives had faced an 8-month hold due to a contractor issue, but staff members are now able to work on these records. Fischer noted that this afternoon session had covered a lot of ground. He stressed the hard-working relationships IPS enjoyed with various units within the National Archives, reiterating that both entities have a mutual, shared interest. IPS plans to transfer the last batch of 1970s electronic records by the end of the year. IPS and NARA staff will meet sometime in January or February to discuss guidance on the review of PII. IPS will also meet with the NDC staff to discuss other issues.
Immerman thanked Mayer, Goodsell, Fischer, and Langbart for their presentations and comments. He indicated that he would contact Mayer for additional information prior to the preparation of the annual report. Immerman commented that the more effectively the Office of the Historian works at producing the Foreign Relations series, the more the Committee would push both IPS and NARA on issues related to the review, accession, processing, and public availability of Department of State records.
Herschler offered his thanks to Mayer and Susan Cummings for organizing the Committee’s visit to the National Archives.
The session adjourned at 2:45 p.m.
Open Session, December 11
Approval of the Record of the September 2012 Meeting
Immerman called the meeting to order at 10:22 a.m. He asked for the approval of the minutes of the September meeting, which was achieved via unanimous consent. Immerman noted that the Committee had to select a chair to serve for 2013. The Committee nominated Immerman by acclimation, and Immerman agreed to serve as chair during the next year.
He then introduced Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Michael Hammer. Hammer congratulated Immerman for his reconfirmation as chair. After noting that he understood that the previous day’s session at the National Archives was productive, he highlighted the productive year enjoyed by the Office. Hammer expressed his thanks to the Committee for its unstinting support of the Office. He applauded Randolph for his leadership, especially during a year in which the Office faced some unforeseen circumstances, in this case, the flood damage incurred in March.
Immerman responded that the Committee is extremely pleased that the Office continues to make progress on a variety of fronts. He expressed his appreciation to Hammer for all the support he and the Bureau of Public Affairs have provided to the Office, noting that it was extremely gratifying to observe all of the dynamic changes that have taken place in the Office during the last 3 years. Immerman added that he wanted to ensure that Hammer understood how much the Committee appreciates this effort. Hammer thanked the Committee for its support of the Office. He commented that he had enjoyed the opportunity to speak about foreign policy and the work of the Bureau of Public Affairs to students at the campuses of the University of Colorado-Boulder and Temple University and indicated his availability to speak at the campuses of other Committee members.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Randolph offered his welcoming remarks before turning to his report. He indicated that, since the September meeting, the Office hired Thomas Faith, who had joined the Office as a contract historian during the summer, as a full-time historian/technical editor. As a result, the Office now enjoyed a full complement of historians and a balanced production chain. With Faith’s conversion to a FTE position, the Office can fill his vacated contract slot with another contract historian who will work on several digitization projects. Randolph underscored the vital role technical editors play in the Office of the Historian; the talented cadre of editors ensures that the Foreign Relations series is accurate and accessible to the public. Continuing, he commented that Peter Cozzens retired from the Foreign Service in October. Cozzens joined the Office in 2010 as a senior adviser to The Historian. He had authored a section of the FRUS sesquicentennial project and also provided sound advice and judgment as a member of the management team. In his retirement, Cozzens planned to continue to research and write about the Civil War.
The Office, Randolph stated, continues to be fully involved in its move to new quarters on Navy Hill. The move is still scheduled to take place in May 2014. He added that the transfer of the building from the Navy to the Department of State was now complete and had been marked by a ceremony, at which William McAllister represented the Office. The move represents a tremendous amount of work for the Department’s Real Property Management (RPM) Division.
Focusing on several recent outreach activities, Randolph discussed the partnership between the Office and the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP), culminating in a panel discussion to mark the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The discussion, which took place at the Wilson Center on October 23, featured Philip Zelikow, David Coleman, and former General Editor Edward Keefer. In advance of the Wilson Center event, the Office digitized the Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, American Republics, Cuba; Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath microfiche supplement and posted it to the Office’s website. The obsolescent nature of microfiche and microfiche readers meant that, previously, few scholars could readily or easily access these documents. In addition to the 750 digitized Cuban Missile Crisis documents featured on the website, the Office also sent out a daily tweet, drawing attention to specific documents correlating to the crisis. Randolph opined that these efforts constituted a unique and fun way of bringing attention to the Office’s work. He also highlighted the Office’s efforts to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the September 1862 Battle of Antietam and Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of a preliminary emancipation proclamation following the battle. The Foreign Relations volume for 1862 contained the text of Secretary of State William Seward’s September 22, 1862, note to U.S. Minister in London Charles Francis Adams, in which Seward transmitted the preliminary text of the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on December 1, 1863. The Office published the text of the note, as well as a piece contextualizing the note and providing relevant links, and sent out a tweet on September 20.
Continuing with outreach activities, Randolph mentioned that Josh Botts and Lindsay Krasnoff conducted a workshop in early November at the New York Public Library (NYPL) as part of the ongoing Foreign Relations sesquicentennial project. They demonstrated how to conduct topical searches of online FRUS volumes, discussed the possibilities of using FRUS to research non-diplomatic history topics, and highlighted other online publications featured on the Office’s website.
Concluding, Randolph mentioned that he had taken part in a panel discussion on “NATO, the Media, and International Intervention,” hosted by the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin. He spoke about his role on the Joint Staff during the conflict in the Balkans. In addition, while in Austin, Randolph met with LBJ School Director Ambassador Robert Hutchings and UT professor Jeremi Suri to discuss the possibility of hosting a conference focused on the recent release of the two FRUS volumes on energy policy. The conference would mirror the format of the conference James McAllister, William McAllister, and Botts arranged at Williams College in March 2012. Randolph added that potential partners included the LBJ School, the University of Texas, the Energy Institute, and the Office of the Historian.
Status Report by the Deputy Historian
Herschler indicated that he would devote the majority of his remarks to the outstanding progress made in the declassification process. Since the last Committee meeting, the Office completed the declassification of 6 more Foreign Relations volumes, bringing the total number of volumes declassified in CY 2012 to 11 volumes. Herschler added that it remained possible that the Office could complete declassification of 2 additional volumes by the end of December or early in 2013. He emphasized that this constituted the third straight year of completing the declassification of 10 or more volumes. These efforts have helped to clear out a majority of the declassification backlog, dating back to 2009. Herschler expressed confidence that virtually the entire backlog would be resolved by the end of 2013, as the Declassification and Publishing Division anticipated that another 10–11 volumes would be declassified in 2013. At this point, by the end of this year, the number of Richard M. Nixon–Gerald R. Ford administration sub-series volumes remaining to be declassified could be counted on one hand. Herschler stressed that none of these gains could have been achieved without the hard work of the declassification coordinators and technical editors. He offered his thanks to Carl Ashley and his division for 3 years of extraordinary effort.
Turning to outreach, Herschler noted that he, Susan Holly, and Kristin Ahlberg staffed the Office’s booth at the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) annual meeting, which took place in Seattle in November. Approximately 700–800 secondary school teachers and education professors visited the booth to receive a copy of “Documents on Diplomacy,” a two CD set consisting of 300 primary source documents and 120 lesson plans. Herschler and Holly also conducted a workshop on the use of primary source documents, which drew an overflow crowd. They also answered a variety of questions about foreign policy, the Department of State, the Foreign Relations series, and the Office, particularly the website.
Status Report by the General Editor
General Editor Adam Howard indicated that since the September meeting, the Office had published two Foreign Relations volumes: Energy Crisis, 1974–1980 and Western Europe and NATO, 1969–1972. He anticipated that the Office would publish the Iran–Iraq, 1973–1976 volume this week or next. The publication of this volume would bring the total number of volumes published during CY 2012 to 6. Howard noted that the Office published 7 volumes in 2011 and compared the 13 volumes published in 2011–2012 to the 5 volumes published in 2009–2010. He indicated that compilers turned in another 3 volumes to the Declassification and Publishing Division since the September Committee meeting; he anticipated that 2 additional volumes would go into the declassification process by the end of the year. This would bring the total number of volumes submitted for declassification in CY 2012 to 11.
Referencing remarks made at the September meeting about the inclusion of maps in Foreign Relations volumes, Howard lauded the positive relationship that had developed between the Office of the Historian and the Office of the Geographer. He reminded the Committee that the Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976 volume featured appendices consisting of 8 maps. These crisp, high-quality maps are essential for volumes such as this one. Howard believed that historians would continue to work with the Office of the Geographer to prepare maps for inclusion in upcoming volumes.
Ashley, in response to Herschler’s earlier comments about the productivity of the Declassification and Publishing Division, took the opportunity to state that his division’s accomplishments would not be possible without the hard work and cooperation of IPS.
Report on Technology and Social Media Initiatives
Immerman called upon Joe Wicentowski and Mandy Chalou to discuss the Office’s technology and social media initiatives.
Wicentowski explained that he planned to discuss issues relating to the Office’s website, while Chalou intended to update the Committee on social media efforts. Wicentowski then noted that since September, 502,000 unique visitors accessed the website, compared to 195,000 visitors during the previous quarter. He explained that traffic increased, in part, due to the start of the academic year. The website also had 1.5 million page views, including an average of 3 pages viewed per visitor. Approximately 75 percent of visitors are from the United States and 25 percent are international. Wicentowski commented that although the FRUS section of the website is growing in usage, this component attracted only 25 percent of the traffic during the previous 3 months. The articles focusing on the milestones in the history of U.S. foreign relations alone received 48 percent of the traffic during this time period, followed by the resources on the history of the Department of State and the history of U.S. recognitions and relations. Wicentowski then referenced the website’s ever improving speed and responsiveness since moving to the “cloud.” The response time for searches is currently 450 milliseconds.
Providing an update on the Office’s digitization initiative, Wicentowski stated that, since the last meeting, the Office had posted to the website 6 Foreign Relations volumes from the back catalog, consisting of 2,700 documents. Currently, 173 full-text volumes are available online; these volumes contain 67,000 documents and 165,000 pages. The number also includes the 750 digitized Cuban Missile Crisis microfiche supplement documents (3,100 pages). Although the Office has not released any additional e-book volumes during the last 3 months, Wicentowski anticipated that the Office would release several volumes by the end of the year to complement the other 27 e-books now available.
In concluding his remarks, Wicentowski noted that the Office is a participant in the Obama administration’s Digital Government Strategy, an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) initiative. He explained that OMB hoped to improve web-offerings across the federal government. The Department of State selected the Office of the Historian as one of three offices in the Department to participate in the initiative. The Office will use FRUS materials, including e-books, as its contribution.
Wicentowski then turned this portion of the presentation over to Chalou. Chalou noted that the Office had established a Tumblr account and authored 18 posts. She thanked Botts for authoring many of the posts related to the Cuban Missile Crisis commemoration. The account has gained some outside followers; Chalou hoped the Office could increase its presence on Tumblr. She provided the Committee with statistics related to recent volume tweets: tweets on the Western Europe, NATO, 1969–1972 volume yielded 320 clicks, while tweets focused on the Energy Crisis, 1974–1980 volume yielded 240. She noted that the Office’s peer index rating stood at 54 and then provided an explanation of the peer index rating metric, adding that the Office had 1,375 Twitter followers. She anticipated that with the release of the Iran–Iraq, 1973–1976 volume, the number of followers would increase to over 1,400 followers.
Chalou also discussed how Google Analytics allows her to track how the Office’s social media efforts drive traffic to the Office website. Latest figures reveal that the website attracted 5,000 visitors through various social media platforms: 39 percent from Facebook, 12 percent from Twitter, and 3 percent from Tumblr.
Perdue asked Wicentowski and Chalou about the cost of the Amazon Cloud service; Wicentowski responded with a cost-per-month figure. Perdue then inquired if other federal agencies were also moving in the direction of shifting other public websites to a cloud-based server. Wicentowski answered affirmatively and noted that the Office was one of the Department of State’s first offices to participate in the Obama administration’s Cloud First initiative. He explained that some agencies faced limitations in moving to a cloud-based server, but that the Office enjoyed more control and flexibility in maintaining the website as a result of this transition. Lastly, Perdue asked whether or not the association with Amazon meant that Amazon could feature FRUS titles in its Kindle store. Wicentowski noted that to date, there is not a direct link; the Office is collaborating with the Government Printing Office (GPO) to pursue this objective.
Ashley thanked Wicentowski and Chalou for their report and added that the three of them would take part in a panel, focusing on digital initiatives, at the upcoming American Historical Association (AHA) meeting in New Orleans.
Belmonte inquired as to the progress of the Department’s United States Diplomacy Center (USDC). Randolph noted that the USDC’s director—Steven Estrada—had recently retired. He added that he had a meeting scheduled with the new director—David Ballard—that afternoon.
Randolph then took the opportunity to praise Wicentowski and Chalou for all of their efforts in managing the Office’s robust digital program. He added that they continually work through a variety of bureaucratic processes to ensure that FRUS and other important Office publications and projects appear on the website. Discussion followed on several of the challenges associated with the digital program, namely, several of the bureaucratic processes used to approve the use of applications and tools required to gauge readership of FRUS and improve the website.
Status of Declassification of Department of State Records
Susan Weetman began her report by discussing the status of electronic records. IPS has completed the review of the State Archiving System (SAS) classified and Limited Official Use (LOU) cables through 1987, in addition to the P-reel indices of all classifications through 1988. Weetman indicated that IPS completed the review of the 1987 classified and LOU cables in September; reviewers are now focused on the 1988 classified cables. She reported that, in November, DOE had completed the Kyl–Lott review of the 1978 and 1979 cables and 1976 and 1977 P-reel indices that IPS had sent to DOE in 2008. Also, in November, DOE completed the review of the 1973, 1978, and 1979 P-reel indices, which IPS had sent to DOE this past October. Both Air Force (AF) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) finished reviews of the 1978 and 1979 P-reel indices in November. As a result, all of the electronic materials for the 1970s have been fully vetted by these three agencies. Weetman indicated that IPS is working with NARA to complete the transfer of the 1978 and 1979 cables and the 1976 through 1979 P-reel indices before the end of the year; it is possible that this transfer might not take place until January 2013. Weetman also reiterated that IPS had transferred the hard copies of the 1977 to 1979 TS cables to NARA in May and transferred the hard copy elements of the 1978 and 1979 CFPF in March.
Weetman then focused on the status of paper records. IPS is in the process of reviewing the 1986–1990 record block. During CY 2012, IPS has reviewed approximately 2.5 million pages, bringing the total number of pages reviewed for the record block to approximately 4.2 million pages. She stressed that IPS exceeded its goal of completing the review of 4.1 million pages during CY 2012. IPS also completed 2.3 million pages of Kyl–Lott review at the NDC; Weetman added that IPS participates in the KET. In addition to the work at the NDC, Department reviewers have reviewed over 187,000 pages of RAC referrals from the presidential libraries, as well as 150,000 pages of paper referrals.
Concluding her report, Weetman discussed the review of the 1980–1981 P-reel and N-reel printouts. IPS had requested that CIA print copies of these microfilms. Once the printouts are completed, then IPS will begin reviewing these documents. She explained that the P- and N-reel material is digitized and then printed. IPS is also exploring ways to review this material in its digitized form.
Immerman asked if the Committee members had any questions for Weetman. In the absence of any questions, he adjourned the meeting at 11:10 a.m., and the Committee went into Executive Session.