March 2018

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation March 5-6, 2018

Minutes

Committee Members

  • Richard Immerman, Chairman
  • Laura Belmonte
  • Mary Dudziak
  • Robert McMahon
  • Sue Perdue
  • Trudy Peterson
  • Katherine Sibley
  • Thomas Zeiler

Office of the Historian

  • Carl Ashley
  • Margaret Ball
  • Forrest Barnum
  • Sarah Berndt
  • Joshua Botts
  • Myra Burton
  • Tiffany Cabrera
  • Mandy Chalou
  • Elizabeth Charles
  • Evan Duncan
  • Stephanie Eckroth
  • Thomas Faith
  • David Geyer
  • Renée Goings
  • Charles Hawley
  • Kerry Hite
  • Adam Howard
  • Aiyaz Husain
  • Aaron Marrs
  • William McAllister
  • Michael McCoyer
  • Heather McDaniel
  • Christopher Morrison
  • David Nickles
  • Paul Pitman
  • Alexander Poster
  • Kathleen Rasmussen
  • Matthew Regan
  • Amanda Ross
  • Seth Rotramel
  • Daniel Rubin
  • Nathaniel Smith
  • Melissa Jane Taylor
  • Chris Tudda
  • Dean Weatherhead
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • Alex Wieland
  • James Wilson
  • Louise Woodroofe
  • David Zierler

Bureau of Administration

  • Jeff Charlston
  • Amelia Hinson
  • Keri Lewis
  • Marvin Russell

National Archives and Records Administration

  • Cathleen Brennan, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
  • David Castillo, Textual Records Division/Accessioning Section
  • David Langbart, Textual Records Division
  • John Laster. Office of Presidential Libraries
  • Don McIlwain, National Declassification Center
  • Amy Reytar, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch

Public

  • William Burr
  • Seth Denbo
  • Nate Jones
  • Lee White

Open Session, March 5

Approval of the Record

Chairman Richard Immerman opened the session at 11:02 a.m. Immerman noted that this was a landmark HAC meeting because it was the first meeting since former Historian Stephen Randolph’s retirement last December. He praised Office Deputy Director Renee Goings and FRUS General Editor Adam Howard for providing strong Office and FRUS management during the interim period until a new Historian is hired and a new HAC is fully reconstituted following three, and possibly five additional, member departures.

Report by the Historian

Following these opening remarks, Goings addressed the open session. She said the new Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Michelle Giuda, introduced herself to and met with the HAC members and Office managers during the morning working session. Goings provided an update on the hiring process for the next Historian. She expects the position to be posted soon with a two-week window, followed by the necessary interviews with prospective candidates. Barring unexpected bureaucratic complications, however, she projected that the next Historian would be in place by April, making it likely that the Historian could be in attendance at the next scheduled HAC meeting in June. She concluded by announcing that the Office and the HAC had started a process of reevaluating how HAC meetings are conducted and solicited suggestions from attendees and the public for suggestions how the open session might be improved, including ideas for presentations, increased participation, and the greater use of technology.

Report by the General Editor

Howard addressed the open session next by providing an update on FRUS activities. He announced that seventeen volumes of the FRUS back catalogue covering 1886 to 1900 had recently been published in digital form and he expected the entire remaining back catalogue to be published by the end of 2018. He said that currently two FRUS volumes were in the declassification process and that the verification of another volume was delayed due to closing of the Federal Government on Friday as a consequence of the weather. He finished his update by stressing how useful the digitalized versions of FRUS volumes had become for students, particularly with their word-searching capability. He specifically cited the work of Office Digital History Adviser Joe Wicentowski in expanding the series’ technological capabilities.

Immerman followed Howard and detailed the HAC’s key priorities for 2018. The top priority for the HAC was to push all the agencies to resolve the current FRUS declassification log-jam. He said that after recent positive meetings with the CIA, the HAC was optimistic that FRUS would be a priority for Agency resources and staffing. Immerman further cited the value of the HAC’s joint meeting with the CIA’s Historical Review Panel in December and noted that the HAC would like to make the HAC–HRP meetings an annual event. He concluded his remarks on the CIA by also noting that there are new opportunities for historical projects that could be developed that would complement the FRUS series.

The DOD, Immerman cautioned, was posing a more serious problem. While noting that the FRUS series was moving into documenting a historical period where DOD input into foreign policymaking became increasingly important, FRUS’s ability to cover the Department’s role suffered due to DOD itself. In particular, Immerman cited DOD’s ongoing lack of understanding of the FRUS mission; tardy reviews of submitted FRUS manuscripts; and a lack of remedial action to ensure there are sufficient resources to enable improved performance. As a result, he continued, DOD is, at present, not fulfilling its obligations, which in turn prevents the Office from fulfilling its statutory responsibility to produce the FRUS series. Immerman noted that the HAC had formally appealed to the Secretary of State to allow appeal to the ISCAP to facilitate the release of documents. Furthermore, the HAC suggested a DOD pre-publication review representative attend all future HAC meetings so that continued problems can be brought directly to the DOD representatives’ attention. As for NARA, the HAC is very encouraged by the progress made by the National Declassification Center (NDC), as it is with the Department of State’s IPS. The HAC does want NARA to make use of technological aids to help with records management. He emphasized the challenges the U.S. Government’s proposed FY2019 budget will pose to NARA.

Immerman said that another key priority concerned the HAC itself and the future of HAC membership. He observed that as a many as eight HAC members might be replaced by next year, leaving only one present member in place in 2019. He emphasized the HAC members’ concurrence that change of membership was positive, but cautioned about continuity problems this turnover might present. Immerman also noted that the HAC was “very concerned” about the risk of the HAC’s politicization during this process.

Questions

The open session concluded with a brief question and answer period. David Langbart of NARA asked Howard about the digitalization of other FRUS-like products historically produced by the Department of State, such as the supplements produced during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and listed in the FRUS history. Howard said that the Office intended to digitalize all FRUS-related volumes, and is limited only by funding. The Office’s Bill McAllister observed that while some of the volumes referenced by Langbart could currently be found online, they were often only accessible behind pay-walls. Continuing, McAllister added further details about the idiosyncratic provenance of a few of the volumes, noting that in a few cases they were Department of State documents that had been published by Congress.

The Office’s David Zierler next asked Immerman how the organizations that are represented on the HAC (AHA, OAH, ASIL, APSA, SHAFR and SAA) might assist the HAC with the issue of HAC appointment. Immerman stated that there was some opacity in the HAC appointment process, though he noted that it was understood that the professional organizations could put forward nominations of current HAC members for future terms. He noted that in the case of APSA, its representative (James McAllister) had already been denied a further term. Immerman also stated that the organizations could address concerns regarding politicization risks in their respective publications. He noted further that the HAC would continue to work with all the professional organizations on this matter.

When there were no further questions, Goings thanked the participants and adjourned the session at 11:21.

Closed Session, March 5

Status of Declassification of Department of State Records

Immerman convened the afternoon session at approximately 1:00 p.m.

Office of Information Programs and Services

Immerman asked that the Committee approve the December 2017 meeting minutes, and the Committee unanimously approved them.

Charlston stated that it has been very busy in IPS. Since the last Committee meeting IPS had transferred 70 cubic feet of TS/SCI material to NARA, and 300‒400 more cubic feet was expected to be transferred to NARA in the coming months. He also submitted a list of all their reviews to the Committee. The FOIA surge is expected to wind up at the end of April. All the detailees from other Bureaus will return to their positions at that time. Charlston then discussed SRP’s new temporary reorganization and passed the new/temporary organizational chart to the Committee. The reorganization will last at least 120 days and might be permanent. Marvin Russell will be Charlston’s Deputy. Charlston broke down the chart and explained the duties/responsibilities of each person in each new position. He expects this reorganization to improve IPS’s efficiency.

Goings asked about vacant positions. Charlston replied he expects these positions to be filled soon. Goings asked if Lewis’s position has been changed and Charlston said she will still coordinate FRUS but with added responsibilities. Charlston introduced Amelia Hinson as their new President Management Fellow for the next 2 years.

Charlston then noted that IPS had reviewed 6.7 million pages of paper records last year, and expected to review 5.9 million pages of paper by the end of 2018. This marks the first decline in paper records undergoing review, the start of electronic records’ climb towards dominance. Their release rate is 99.5%. About 18% of these pages had to be referred to other agencies. The Paper Review Team in Newington has been focused on the FOIA surge and they have completed relevancy searches for 83% of the FOIA requests involving 4,187 boxes. This includes 3,106 unique boxes for a total of 7.7 million pages. They’ve also scanned responsive documents in 600 of those boxes. The Team will return to their normal declassification duties as the special FOIA effort draws to a conclusion. Charlston said one of their projects is to identify interesting documents that are going through the normal 25-year program, digitize them, and release them to the public after redacting information that would otherwise be referred for the National Declassification Center.

Charlston said the Electronic Review Team has completed its initial review of 1.15 million pages through February 28. In addition to what they believe is 5.9 million paper pages more to be reviewed, he just learned that IPS will have to review 7 million new cables averaging 2 pages per cable. [Note: he subsequently confirmed that this high number was the result of a software error.] He expects that he will be able to hire additional reviewers to complete this project. Immerman asked if those new reviewers will be in addition to the 12 reviewers listed on the organizational chart. Charlston replied that yes they will be in addition to those listed. Some of those reviewers will remain in IPS’s DC offices; the others will go to Newington. New hires will all be located in Newington. Eventually all paper and electronic review will be in the same building and receive training there as well.

Charlston also noted that the FRUS team has also completed 234 new MDR cases, which breaks their all-time record, and asked for and received a round of applause for Lewis.

Sibley asked how their experienced team will be affected by the new reorganization and the move to Newington. Charlston said their productivity will not be affected at all by the move.

Immerman asked about impending new hires and asked how Charlston would assess his present staffing and resources and over the next few years. And will technology be a variable? Charlston said the review level is good at present. He repeated they need to fill several open positions. They are also short of full time staff in general. Charlston also noted that currently IPS has only one budget. Moving forward there will be a divided budget allocated to each area for which they’ll be responsible.

Peterson referred to December 2017 and notes that they are still stuck on 1981‒82 P-reels. She asked if there was any word on when these would be finished. Charlston replied that he could not say when they will be completed.

Peterson asked about his comment during the December 2017 meeting where he said he would provide monthly updates about staff. Charlston said that because of all the other projects they have been doing he has not been able to provide such an update. He noted that it can take 6-8 weeks to get hiring actions and postings approved.

The session ended at 1:35.

Office of Presidential Libraries

Laster gave no formal remarks, but said he would answer questions.

Immerman indicated that Jay Bosanko had promised a briefing in June on the subject of classified documents being sent from the libraries back to DC for declassification purposes.

Peterson asked if research requests would still go to the libraries themselves and Laster said he didn’t know. Howard asked about reviewing the Bush emails and Laster said that they’re still working on software glitches.

Sibley said that she’d recently visited the George W. Bush Library and enjoyed being in the research room. Laster replied that they were working on how to serve digitized documents, but that there would likely be some form of a “virtual research room.” Additionally, they were discussing some kind of facetime capability so that researchers could still take advantage of archivists’ expertise.

Immerman wanted to know if digitized documents would still be in “folders” and “collections.” Laster said that he wasn’t sure yet. Dudziak argued in favor of a traditional finding aid so that researchers could assess the surrounding documents to those discovered by word search. Dudziak and Immerman hoped that the libraries would work with the scholarly community on how to set up finding aids. Langbart noted the problems brought about when the CIA scrapped CREST to make documents available world-wide, but made the documents almost unworkable in the new system by eliminating the organizational structure of the images. Laster appreciated the comments and said they are working through these issues as processing by FOIA is a different beast to processing by collection.

National Declassification Center

Don McIlwain stated that currently 350,000 pages that were accessioned in CY 2017 from Department of State record groups (59, 84, 286, 306, etc.) are scheduled for processing in CY 2018. The National Declassification Center completed the quality check of the CY 2017 total (1,200,000 pages) of records. To date in CY 2018, 21,415 pages of referrals to the Department of State have been processed for the Interagency Referral Center (IRC), with a release rate of just over 75 percent.

In response to a question by Immerman, McIlwain said that filling Sheryl Shenberger’s position had been approved, but not yet posted. The Archivist will approve the person when that selection is made.

McIlwain continued that the “indexing on demand” group has completed 427 projects to date, consisting of 13,843,000 pages with a release rate of close to 80 percent. He has also hired a new indexing on demand coordinator, Jen Dryer.

The P-reel indexing and final release is complete for 1977–1979, and has been passed on to Research Services for processing to make them more user-friendly.

The NDC FOIA team aims to continue to reduce its backlog by at least ten percent. The team had thus far closed four of the ten oldest FOIA cases and hoped to close at least five more in the remainder of the year. In response to a question from Immerman, McIlwain explained that due to two retirements and two promotions, the NDC now lacked four specialists. He received approval to fill two of those positions; he awaits their posting. Marvin Russell from the Department of State continues to participate as an on-site consultant.

Responding to a final question from Immerman, McIlwain characterized the joint NDC–ODNI declassification conference, September 11–14, 2017, as a success. He heralded Charlston’s presentation as a highlight, and hoped the meeting would promote contextual declassification of older documents, rather than reviews that applied a 2018 lens to evaluating forty-year-old documents.

Regarding a series of questions from several Committee members concerning the move of all classified materials from presidential libraries to the DC area, McIlwain noted that while the NDC would have a role, it remained undefined at the moment. He could not anticipate where the records would be stored, who would be responsible for managing them, or how their location would be identified in their former locations. McIlwain acknowledged that the process will rely heavily on good cooperation between the NDC and archivists at the presidential libraries to both leverage the archivists’ expertise and knowledge of the materials and to address researchers’ concerns regarding finding aids, document access, and document contextualization.

Research Services

David Langbart informed the HAC that no additional foreign affairs records had been accessioned by NARA since the December HAC meeting. For FY18, the processing of records continues. P-Reel printout processing on the 1977 and 1978 printouts is complete and processing of the 1979 printouts is well on its way.

Langbart informed the HAC that the reference staff at NARA has been busy since the beginning of the fiscal year and promised statistics for the June HAC meeting. He noted that researchers have expressed concerns about instability caused by government shutdowns and the potential for additional shutdowns. The project for updating the finding aids, with work continuing Record Group by Record Group to determine the most vital entries that need updating box and folder lists. Langbart asked for recommendations from HAC members, historians in the Office, and from the interested public at large for recommendations on what entries are most important. He noted that the Archives hopes to implement additional search improvements on its online catalog, including a “Refine by Record Group” function.

Lastly, Langbart informed the HAC that, on the reintegration of telegrams into the Central Foreign Policy File, the Textual Records Division made a proposal that is out for decision by Archive leadership. Langbart noted that coordination and cooperation between textual records, electronic records, both part of Research Services, and the National Declassification Center will be necessary in order to implement the policy if it is approved.

A brief discussion followed after which the meeting adjourned.