Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation June 4-5, 2012
Open Session, June 4
Approval of the Record of the February 2012 Meeting
Richard Immerman called the meeting to order and the committee approved the minutes of the February meeting.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Immerman congratulated Stephen Randolph on taking the position of Office Director at the Office of Historian. Randolph thanked Immerman and welcomed everyone to the open session. He then introduced the newest Advisory Committee member, Sue Perdue. He updated the members of the committee on developments in the Office since the last meeting. In March the Office was struck by a flood. The recovery process was completed within a month, and without any production delays. The timely recovery would not have been possible without the unremitting support of the Bureau of Public Affairs Executive Office and the diligent work of Office staff. Out of the challenge also came opportunity. The Office now has retained a research center at SA-44 which is used by staff on a regular basis looking for a quiet place to concentrate and write. The Office is still focused on the move to Navy Hill, which Randolph described as essential to the ability of the Office to excel in its mission. Immerman expressed the committee's thanks and congratulations to the Office and the management team for weathering the storm without disruption to the Office's mission.
On personnel issues, Randolph informed the committee that the selection process for a General Editor had begun and would be completed soon. Aaron Marrs had transferred from the Declassification and Publishing division to the Policy Studies division. The Office had also hired a new full-time editor and a contract editor to help move the editing workload forward.
On the outreach front, Randolph said that the Office would be involved in planning for the official commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of the Vietnam War.
Status Reports by the General Editor and Deputy Historian
Randolph then briefed the committee as acting General Editor. The Office expanded the e-book program and also expanded social media outreach with a Twitter feed. The Reagan Style guide was finalized and approved. The Office also established good working relations with the Bush library in Texas and historians would start visiting the library there in the coming years. The Office had published one volume thus far in 2012; eight volumes were in second review, and two volumes were in first review with more volumes to enter first review later in the year.
Deputy Historian David Herschler reported that three volumes were in the final stages of declassification. By the end of the year, he added, the Office would have about ten volumes declassified. Two new volumes would be submitted for declassification later in the month, bringing the total so far to four volumes—more than were submitted all of the previous year.
Herschler then updated the members of the committee on Office outreach activities, including: participation by several Office staff at the combined meeting of the Organization of American Historians and the National Council for Public History, the completion of the sesquicentennial outreach project, and the Williams College conference on SALT I and Foundations of Foreign Policy for the Nixon/Ford administrations.
Reports by Office Staff
Josh Botts presented a summary of the successes of the Williams College conference, including the success enjoyed by the volumes. As agreed by participants, Botts suggested that featuring more than one volume in such a conference brings added value to the exercise. FRUS, Botts concluded, serves readers better when understood as a series rather than a collection of individual volumes. Randolph added that he has asked Office staff to develop a chart of the interrelations between the various volumes. The relationships would help show the breadth of the series. Immerman stressed that the volumes got very good reviews from the participants and sparked a terrific conversation. The conference was a good model, but he wondered what participants took away from it.
Joe Wicentowski updated the committee and the public on the e-book initiative undertaken by the Office. Seventeen volumes had been released with ten more to come in the next few weeks. The ability of the Office to publish e-books was made possible by several fortuitous decisions made early in the production process, including the adoption of XML as a standard for FRUS data. After all the volumes have been released as e-books on the Office's website, they will be released to private online retailers.
Report by the Assistant Secretary
Assistant Secretary Mike Hammer joined the meeting. He began by thanking Randolph for his leadership during the flood and recovery crisis. Hammer stressed that the Office is now moving ahead at a brisk pace, in part due to increasingly functional cooperation with the CIA on access and declassification. He expressed his hope that the cooperation will continue in order to maintain the current pace of FRUS production and declassification.
Status of Declassification of Department of State Records
Susan Weetman of IPS circulated a chart that documented the current status of the Department of State 25-year review of the Central Foreign Policy File. Weetman reported that IPS had completed their review of the State Archiving System (SAS) classified electronic cables and Limited Official Use (LOU) cables through 1986 and were currently reviewing the classified and LOU cables for 1987. IPS transferred the hard copy elements of the 1978-1979 Central File, consisting of the D-reel microfilm, the P-reel microfilm, the P-reel printouts, the N-reel microfilm, the N-reel printouts and the Bulky Paper files, to NARA in March. IPS transferred the TS paper files for 1977-1979 to NARA in May. IPS is ready to transfer the 1979 electronic cables and the 1976-1977 electronic P-reel indices to NARA once DOE has completed its review of the materials, which should be by the end of September. Weetman reported that with regard to the paper records, IPS is continuing to review the 1986-1990 record block. So far this calendar year, IPS had reviewed over 1.1 million pages, bringing the total number of pages reviewed for the record block to 3.1 million. IPS is completing arrangements to have the 1980 and 1981 P-reel and N-reel microfilm converted to paper. Once this is done, the review of the materials will begin.
Immerman requested supplementary information regarding the P-reel and N-reel conversion contract. Sibley asked about the review priority given to "high-demand items". Peterson inquired about the status of over-30 year old lot files.
Randolph thanked Weetman for her close working relationship with the Office of the Historian. Herschler reviewed the remaining schedule for the day and the committee recessed for lunch.
Closed Session, June 4
Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of Records at the National Archives
Weetman introduced Jeff Charlston, head of the paper review branch. Charlston stated that IPS is looking for bilateral agreements with other agencies to hasten the process of declassification. In these agreements, agencies would "bless" the work of other groups, in order to work more expeditiously. Charlston stated that interagency cooperation was key. Immerman inquired as to whether the other agencies were being cooperative. Charlston said that they were. Charlston proceeded to discuss the closure of the Joint Referral Center. He stated that the JRC (part of the NDC) placed all DOD reviewers under one umbrella, with each reviewer examining 2,500 pages daily. Charlston reported that State had worked with the JRC, when it was open. He then stated that the JRC had shut down because of two problems. First, budget issues made it difficult for the Center to operate, and only the most senior Defense reviewers were working there. Second, the NARA official who was to provide oversight for the project had retired and NARA was unable to find a replacement for him. Carl Ashley asked if it was an administrative decision to shut down the center, and Charlston responded that it was. Immerman asked which issue played a larger role in the JRC's shutdown - the retirement, or the budget cuts. Charlston said the retirement was most important, but Don Mcllwain of NARA said that the budget cuts were more significant. Sibley asked if that meant the JRC's work would come to a halt. Charlston said that that was indeed the case, and that the individual agencies would have to do Kyl/Lott reviews, and that there were 150 million pages in queue. Sibley asked how old the documents in question were. Charlston replied that the date range varied.
Weetman then introduced Bill Fischer, who was responsible for records transfer to NARA. Fischer stated that the 1977-79 Central Foreign Policy records (paper and microfilm) had been transferred this year, citing a growing partnership with NARA. In sum, more than 700 boxes were transferred. Fischer expressed his hope that these annual transfers would occur on a systematic basis. Michael McCoyer then inquired as to whether electronic records were also transferred. Fischer stated that the next year-set, 1979, was ready to go, but Department of Energy reviews were holding up the process. McCoyer asked David Langbart (NARA) where the records were and Langbart said IPS would have a better idea. Immerman asked when the electronic records would be available. Langbart responded that since the records were held up, it might be until the end of the year until they are transferred to NARA, and six more months until they would be ready. Langbart declined to provide an exact estimate, saying he was unsure. Peterson asked why the update for the 1978-79 records stated "DOS review completed". She asked if the DOE review was still forthcoming. Susan Weetman said that the records still needed to be reviewed by DOE.
Herschler asked which documents were reviewed first, and what IPS's priorities were. With respect to the electronic records, David Adamson of IPS/SRP stated that since the 1973-74 cables were first transferred to NARA years ago, the P-reel indices had always lagged behind due to their lower priority. IPS, however, was addressing this issue, and planned to transfer the electronic cables and the electronic p-reel indices—in short, the e-records of each year—in tandem in the future. Herschler commented that transferring the p-reel printouts without the p-reel indices might cause problems because many documents would thus arrive at NARA without any way for the public to sort through them in an efficient fashion. Peterson wondered if the present DOE reviews of the 1976 cables caused those cables to be unavailable for viewing. Langbart replied that many of the telegrams were online. Langbart then stated that it appeared that few public researchers were coming to NARA to view the P-Reel printouts, and were instead only viewing the documents available online. Mcllwain added that despite this trend, the number of FOIA requests had increased. McMahon inquired as to whether research volume at NARA had declined since the telegrams were placed online. Langbart said it had not, and that the "summer rush" began early this year. McMahon suggested that NARA devise a system to better track what researchers were looking at, both online and in College Park.
Langbart said such a system would be difficult to develop. Langbart added that many people are now inquiring about "Lot" files, rather than the Central Files, and that public researchers believe there is a "mystique" about the Lot files. Immerman suggested holding a panel about the usefulness of the Central Files at this year's SHAFR. William McAllister stated he had already come up with several ideas regarding this issue and that the Historian's Office held a session on NARA research at the 2010 AHA in San Diego, but attendance was low.
Langbart stated that attendance at similar NARA panels was also low. Charlston stated that the Kyl-Lott review was creating a bottleneck, and that one proposed fix was to use the virtual internship program to look at open source documents and write a report that would provide general information on where U.S. nuclear weapons were located abroad to inform discussion of possible guidance changes. Peterson inquired as to the resources needed to make it back to the 30-year line. Charlston said he would need twice as many staff, and that is why there has been an effort to streamline the declassification process. Immerman commented that without proper resources, these streamlining efforts would just mean losing ground less quickly.
Mcllwain replied that that was true, although further attempts at innovative streamlining would lead to better results. Langbart then circulated a report on AID records. He stated there was more information online, in several blog posts. Mcllwain also discussed the NDC's blog, stating that a recent entry reported that 504 records were recently released, primarily of military origin. Mcllwain said the records were open to researchers, though the finding aids were still sparse. In response to a question from the Committee, Mcllwain added that NARA was looking for a way to re-integrate FOIA cables and provide them online. He stated that electronic records no longer have to be printed to paper and mailed in order for a review to take place, but commented that when a document is subjected to FOIA review, redacted, and then released, only the requester would receive a PDF. He said posting the released cables on-line could be a work-around. Peterson said this solution might cause a citation issue. Mcllwain said he would try to be as thorough as possible on the citation. The Committee asked for a report on this issue from NARA at the next meeting.
Joint Meeting with the Historical Review Panel
The Committee discussed with the Review Panel the overall FRUS declassification process, the High Level Panel Process, specific FRUS volumes, and declassification issues.
Closed Session, June 5
Foreign Relations Research at the Presidential Libraries
Melissa Jane Taylor and Alex Wieland reported on their trip to the George H.W. Bush presidential library. Taylor gave an overview of the purpose and results of the trip. Wieland addressed some of the specific challenges that they encountered. A general discussion followed that concerned ways to address these challenges.
John Laster discussed Reagan and Bush Library finding aids with the committee and staff.
The Committee adjourned into Executive Session.