Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation September 11-12, 2017
- Richard Immerman, Chairman
- Laura Belmonte
- Mary Dudziak
- Robert McMahon
- Trudy Peterson
- Katherine Sibley
- Thomas Zeiler
Office of the Historian
- Stephen Randolph, Historian
- Kristin Ahlberg
- Carl Ashley
- Margaret Ball
- Forrest Barnum
- Sara Berndt
- Joshua Botts
- Myra Burton
- Tiffany Cabrera
- Seth Center
- Mandy Chalou
- Elizabeth Charles
- Evan Duncan
- Stephanie Eckroth
- Thomas Faith
- David Geyer
- Renée Goings
- Charles Hawley
- Kerry Hite
- Adam Howard
- Aiyaz Husain
- Virginia Kinniburgh
- Aaron Marrs
- William McAllister
- Michael McCoyer
- Heather McDaniel
- Christopher Morrison
- Mircea Munteanu
- 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
- William Fischer
- Keri Lewis
Central Intelligence Agency
- Nancy M.
Department of Defense
- Cameron Morse
- Darrell Walker
National Archives and Records Administration
- William J. Bosanko, Chief Operating Officer
- Cathleen Brennan, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
- Ann Cummings, Executive for Reearch Services
- David Langbart, Textual Records Division
- Amy Reytar, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
- Meredith Scheiber, Records Appraisal and Agency Assistance
- William Burr
- Lee White
Open Session, September 11
Approval of the Record
Chairman Richard Immerman convened the open session at 11:00 a.m., moving for the adoption of the minutes of the previous meeting. Trudy Peterson seconded the motion and it was adopted unanimously.
Remarks by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs
Historian Stephen Randolph then introduced Acting Assistant Secretary Susan Stevenson by praising her support for the office and its work.
Assistant Secretary Stevenson opened by noting she was happy to be back before the committee. She updated members on her personal status noting that with the ongoing Department reorganization she would likely remain in her post until the end of the year. She lauded the Office’s work as an important part of the Department, noting that thanks to the Office’s statutory mandate the functions and budget of the office would not be reduced. A directional outline of the proposed reorganization would be sent to OMB for feedback later this week, but the process of implementation would take a significant amount of time.
Stevenson singled out Josh Botts for his recent historical work on the 90s government reorganizations which provided important lessons for the current effort.
Stevenson noted the release of the Iran retrospective volume and praised Joe Wicentowski, Virginia Kinniburgh, Kerry Hite, and Heather McDaniel for their exceptional work in releasing 32 new digital versions of past FRUS volumes last week on the Office website. The newly released material takes the series back to 1912 in an easily accessible and fully searchable digital format.
The Assistant Secretary noted that Alex Wieland had been awarded the Golden Baton, an honor bestowed weekly to highlight meritorious service within the PA bureau, for providing requested information on British Middle Eastern policy during the 1960s for the NSC. She observed the large number of awards given to Office staff at last week’s bureau award ceremony, suggesting these encomiums spoke to the great work done by the Office.
Stevenson concluded with praise for the Office’s excellent management.
Report by the Historian
Steve Randolph began his remarks by noting Virginia Kinniburgh’s attendance and thanking her for her work on FRUS digitization. He remarked that 443 of the 535 total FRUS volumes had been digitized and observed that the digitization would encompass volumes back to 1900 by year’s end, with the outstanding volumes projected for completion sometime next year.
Randolph turned to the FRUS release schedule, asserting that six additional volumes were projected for release by the end of the current year. With two volumes released earlier in the year, this should mean a total of eight for 2017.
The Historian noted the excellent quality of the UMI/Diplomacy Center panel on Reagan administration foreign policy held in mid-June. He observed that efforts were underway to partner with the Diplomacy Center and other interested parties to host an ongoing series of similar events concentrated on FRUS and the work of the office. Events pertaining to Laura Kolar’s Carter-era Panama Canal volume, Alex Poster’s Global Issues volume, and an upcoming Kissinger/Le Duc Tho volume are in the works already.
He then turned the session over to General Editor Adam Howard.
Report by the General Editor
Howard echoed Stevenson and Randolph’s gratitude for Ms. Kinniburgh’s current and past work publishing the FRUS back catalog. He emphasized that the digitization of these volumes, coupled with improvements in chronological searchability on the history.state.gov website would be a boon for both teaching and research.
The General Editor then reported that one volume had been added to the declassification queue since the previous meeting.
Howard concluded his presentation by describing a recent meeting that Office staff held with representatives of the South Korean Foreign Ministry looking to establish their own historical documentary publication program. He noted that, when South Korea launched its program, it would join Japan and China to expand East Asian participation in the International Committee of Editors of Diplomatic Documents, a global collaborative effort to share best practices and lessons learned among similar projects. Howard emphasized that these efforts have enabled participating programs to apply new technologies to producing and publishing documentary history editions and improve coordination between various projects and their host institutions and government agencies.
There were no questions for Stevenson, Randolph, or Howard, and Immerman adjourned the open session at 11:30 a.m.
Closed Session, September 11
Issues Relating to the Declassification of the Foreign Relations Series
Department of Defense
Richard Immerman introduced himself and The Historian of the Department of State, Stephen Randolph. Committee members introduced themselves and their affiliations/organizations they represent.
Randolph thanked the Department of Defense representatives for attending the meeting, making note that, despite a long-standing relationship between the Office of the Historian and the Defense Office of Prepublication and Security Review (DOPSR), there have been several sessions since the last time DOD was present at the meeting of the HAC. He recognized that the two organizations have a complex relationship, and would seek to provide the HAC with a baseline of where the relationship stands and possible solutions to improve it.
Darrell Walker, Chief of the Prepublication and Security Review Office at DOD, introduced himself and then introduced Cameron Morse, Policy Team Lead responsible for FRUS reviews. The Policy Team also has the only FOIA trained officers in the office, so the team handles FOIA inquiries regarding DOPSR cases and activities as well. He underlined that DOPSR also provides reviews to former DOD officials seeking to publish their memoirs alongside a long list of other responsibilities.
Morse introduced himself. He began by underlining staffing issues the office was facing. PPRO was responsible for reviewing manuscripts, public policy releases, etc., aside from participation by staff in working groups related to the mission of the office and declassification in general. The authority to conduct FRUS reviews in the DOPSR was granted under Regulation AI–50. Until 2006 there was one office that handled declassification, but it was now broken in three parts (FOIA, Declassification and Privacy (RPDD), and Security Review). The review process for FRUS is particularly cumbersome, not just because of the regulations under which it operates, but also because it involves multiple DOD actors, often outside of the office’s chain of command. DOPSR has no authority to mandate review to other parts of DOD; rather they have to convince other parts of DOD to prioritize the review over their other missions (FOIA/MDR/Declassification, etc.).
Morse stressed that the office understood it has not met the statutory requirements for timely review of information from the Office, and made some suggestions for improving the timeliness.
- • Receiving the materials from FRUS in digitized form rather than on paper
- • Not receiving documents that have been declassified before
Adam Howard asked if the office has any declassification authority. Morse said the office has some limited authority which it exercises. However, the office also has a good idea of what was declassified before and often makes recommendations to other parts of DOD and to the Services. Howard asked if DOPSR meets directly with personnel outside of the office making declassification decisions. Morse responded that such meetings occur at times, but only with civilians. There is no direct contact with military personnel in JCS for example, and that it is a point of contention.
Immerman asked if there are any organizational or resource changes that are being considered, and whether there was something that the HAC could be helpful with.
Morse responded that DOPSR only has control over resources in its own office and that it cannot control the amount of resources other offices spend on the issue. He also noted that the office has moved from OSD to a more generic Washington Headquarters Services, which has further diminished its clout.
Immerman stressed that, as it stands today, the DOPSR is not in compliance with its statutory obligations. He asked Morse to clarify what might be done to help the office reach compliance. Morse responded that the Office might talk to Karen Meyers in order to get a better idea of what resources might be necessary. Asked if moving the office back under OSD would resolve some of the problems faced presently, Morse responded that some thought was given to moving the office under the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, but that it was unclear how, if, or whether that would work to the benefit of this process.
Trudy Peterson asked Morse to explain the process by which their office processes a document for review. Following Morse’s explanation of the process, Peterson asked if DOPSR has final call on the declassification decision, to which he answered yes.
Randolph said that the mission of the Office, as mandated by law, is to publish the volumes of the FRUS at the 30-year mark. He stressed that the office is extremely mindful of the importance of this work, as possibilities to correct mistakes are not available. He thanked the DOD representatives for their honesty, noting that he now has a better idea of where things stand. He added that he had met with Karen Meyers in the past, but that DOD still needs to make decisions. Randolph mentioned that the Office has suggested in the past the idea of an IPS-like structure at DOD, where DOPSR could hire former DOD officials with a good knowledge of the subject matter to do the reviews in house rather than farming them out to other offices. He suggested that such an organization would allow DOPSR to have responsibility, visibility, and management oversight over the process, something that the office does not currently have. The structure Morse described, Randolph noted, was a structure that could not work. While DOD’s suggestions might help, the structure is broken. The Office of the Historian understands the security concerns expressed by the DOD representative, Randolph said, but there can still be disagreement on declassification questions.
Randolph noted that DOPSR does not have a declassification guide specifically for FRUS and is using their MDR declassification guidelines for this purpose. He recommended that the practice change. He reiterated that the Department of State’s IPS model might serve as an example. IPS reviews three times more material than DOD; its scalable and repeatable. ISCAP is an important avenue to understand decisions on declassification, and that’s one avenue that should be further explored.
Randolph said, however, that DOD needs to broaden their ideas on overcoming structural barriers and cannot continue along the same path. Issues with timely and acceptable responses continue to pile up. He expressed hope that DOD proposed fixes could help, but stressed that the system is broken and reminded the DOD representatives that HO needs to accomplish its mission.
Morse responded that DOD is aware that their staff needs more training and that he is hopeful they can address the issue in their strategic planning sessions. Randolph thanked the DOD representatives for coming to the meeting of the HAC.
Central Intelligence Agency
Randolph made introductory remarks, noting the varied and complex nature of both the documentation the Office sends to the CIA for review and the relationship between the Office and CIA. He then introduced Nancy M., the new head of CIA’s Information Management Service (IMS). Committee members introduced themselves and their affiliations/organizations they represent.
Nancy M. introduced herself and discussed CIA’s efforts working in partnership with the State Department on FRUS volumes, and how the FRUS work fits into the larger landscape of other information review and release projects and associated deadlines at CIA. She discussed recent progress and challenges the teams face. She said she hopes that increased engagement between State and CIA can help prioritize work on the volumes still in coordination. She then engaged in discussions with Committee members on how to address the current backlog.
Randolph thanked Nancy M. for her presentation and called their previous meeting very productive and hoped that the upcoming working level meeting will be productive as well. He noted that next year’s production is crucial to the series.
The Committee then broke for 10 minutes.
Status of Declassification of Department of State Records
NARA Strategic Plan
After introductory remarks by Immerman, William J. Bosanko, Chief Operating Officer of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), presented NARA’s draft FY 2018–2022 Strategic Plan. The plan was scheduled to be finalized in February 2018. Bosanko explained four key goals NARA would prioritize in the next four years to accomplish their agency mission: Make Access Happen; Connect with Customers; Maximize NARA’s Value to the Nation; and, Build our Future through Our People. An overall objective of the plan is to begin the transition to a digital records-keeping system for the federal government, with a focus on searchable, accessible formats. To that end, after December 31, 2022, NARA will, to the fullest extent possible, no longer accept transfers of permanent or temporary records in analog formats and will accept records only in electronic format and with appropriate metadata. Bosanko cautioned, however, NARA will continue to store and service all records received by the Federal Records Centers Program by that date until their scheduled disposition and as such there would be a long transition process and that NARA would still be in the “paper business” for decades.
Dudziak asked about the accuracy of digital records versus paper records. What would be the effect on the documentation of U.S. History by this change, being as digital records are inherently more vulnerable to alteration? Would there be safe and secure paper backups to the digital records? Bosanko answered that NARA is dealing with these issues. There are already safeguards in place to mitigate alteration of digital records. Oftentimes, original paper and digitized records are secured at different locations to guard against some catastrophic event. The unhappy truth is that NARA is largely out of on-site storage space for paper records, and there is little hope of getting more space in the foreseeable future. The shift to digital is inexorably occurring in all agencies because all agencies are facing these same problems and the manner of conducting business is changing; for example, only eight percent of IRS tax returns are still on paper.
Immerman wondered about the future state of the Archives as regards resources and budget, more specifically, how thorough and comprehensible will the new digital finding aids be. Will you be able to find what you are looking for as easily digitally as you now can on paper? Bosanko replied that NARA planned to build and update finding aids and use tools that will enhance the discovery and use of records online. Past finding aids have always run a broad spectrum of quality; undoubtedly future digital finding aids would not meet the needs of every researcher. NARA’s goal has always been to make more records available to a larger and broader range of researchers. Belmonte noted that there will be no paper records at all at the Obama Presidential Library.
Peterson asked about the reaction of other federal agencies. Bosanko said that agencies were generally positive towards the digital transition, and there would always be exceptions for some paper records (treaties, etc.). Each agency will have to assess their current situation; for some, the change to digital records will be a massive undertaking. Agency leadership typically intends to go digital, but many jobs and practices are tied to the status quo. NARA is not immune to this problem, as there are less than fifty positions at NARA dedicated solely to electronic records out of over 3,000 total employees.
Immerman wondered whether the Archives was prepared to cope with a potentially massive amount of material transferred to federal records centers at the last minute to beat the December 2022 deadline. Bosanko responded that NARA anticipated 1 ½ -3 million cubic feet of textual records transferred in the next 14 years.
Sibley stated that some researchers can find no help online and are often unable to go to the Archives. Ann Cummings, NARA’s Executive for Research Services, replied that NARA had recently approved eight subject matter expert (SME) positions. These positions were in response to comments that NARA received from the HAC and the public via Open Government. These positions will have boarder duties that would include improving the information in the National Archive Catalog (NAC), which would make the online research experience better. Cummings was hopeful that with the success of these initial SME positions, additional ones could be hired. Bosanko said the reality was that records digitalization was proceeding apace but records management was not changing along with the records. They needed to realign finite resources and start addressing known problems.
Zeiler asked if there would be a cost savings. Bosanko replied that there would be long-term cost savings if steps were taken now.
NARA Research Services
Immerman introduced David A. Langbart of NARA’s Textual Records Division. Langbart presented a report, noting that NARA continued to accession foreign records, with three transfers in Record Group 59 totaling about 537 feet, one transfer in Record Group 84 totaling about 2 cubic feet, and eight transfers in RG 457 totaling about 336 feet. He stated that the majority of the processing of foreign affairs records in FY 2017 dealt with USIA records and that the processing would continue in FY 2018 pending the development of a work plan and the identification of the records to be processed.
Langbart’s comments about the elimination of Saturday hours for the research rooms at Archives I and II prompted a request from Immerman to be informed if the shorter hours prove to be detrimental to researchers. Langbart assented and noted that while the change reflected a weekly net loss of 3 hours of research time, the weekday hours were expanded by an hour a day, which allowed the research rooms to be properly staffed on the busy weekdays: “We are now able to stay open longer with improved service on the days with the highest number of researchers.”
Langbart also reported that at the end of the third quarter Archives I and II reference branches had received 16,156 written inquiries during FY 2017 and that during the third quarter alone 16,040 researchers entered the Archives II research room. The research staff made 8794 pulls totaling 61,069 items.
Langbart also noted that the Finding Aids Project was wrapping up for FY 2017 and had identified areas where the finding aids were not consistently applied across electronic platforms. The project will continue into FY 2018 with filling in the gaps for missing finding aids and improving inferior extant finding aids.
Following a question from Immerman about the Catalog, Langbart described improvements regarding a now searchable index, fixes to the “refine by date” button, and the ability to download results in new formats.
Langbart reported that the foreign affairs website is undergoing revisions which are almost complete.
Following up on an earlier request from Immerman, Langbart noted that there had been no progress to date on the reintegration of declassified electronic telegrams into the declassified central file database.
In reference to the earlier discussion of the need to digitize all permanent federal records in the future, Langbart commented that a fully on-line research experience might put researchers at a disadvantage because they often desire personal assistance from archivists or actually need assistance when they don’t think that they do. He also added that classified records are very difficult to manage in a digital retirement setting.
Langbart concluded with a followed up to a discussion of National Security Agency records at a prior meeting of the Historical Advisory Committee, noting that Steven Aftergood had gained awareness of the finding aid to the records from the minutes and submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for that list. The agency responded by providing an unclassified listing, which Aftergood posted.
Closed Session, September 12
Presentation and Discussion on Current Office Research and Annotation
Immerman called the session to order and Howard introduced Chris Tudda.
Tudda discussed his work on the recent compilation, FRUS, 1981–1988, Volume XLVIII, Libya; Chad, outlining the central themes that emerged during his research and his observations regarding key topics in the volume. He then answered several research questions.
The Committee then adjourned.