Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation September 9–10, 2019
- Richard Immerman, Chairman
- Laura Belmonte
- Mary Dudziak
- David Engerman
- Adriane Lentz-Smith
- Susan Perdue
- Trudy Peterson
Office of the Historian
- Kristin Ahlberg
- Carl Ashley
- Margaret Ball
- Forrest Barnum
- Sara Berndt
- Josh Botts
- Myra Burton
- Tiffany Cabrera
- Mandy Chalou
- Elizabeth Charles
- Thomas Faith
- David Geyer
- Renée Goings
- Charles Hawley
- Kerry Hite
- Adam Howard
- Aiyaz Husain
- William McAllister
- Michael McCoyer
- 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
- Joseph Wicentowski
- Alexander Wieland
- James Wilson
- Louise Woodroofe
- David Zierler
Bureau of Administration
- Brandi Garrett
- Marvin Russell
- Eric Stein
- Susan Weetman
National Archives and Records Administration
- Marci Bayer, Textual Records Division/Accessioning Branch
- William “Jay” Bosanko, Chief Operating Officer
- Cathleen Brennan, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
- William Fischer, Director, National Declassification Center
- Philip Heslip, Textual Records Division/Textual Processing Branch
- David Langbart, Textual Records Division
- John Laster, Office of Presidential Libraries
- Bevin Maloney, Electronic Records Division
Department of Defense
- George “Frosty” R. Sturgis
- Bill Burr
- Seth Denbo
Open Session, September 9
Approval of the Record
Richard Immerman called the meeting to order. After brief introductory remarks, Immerman moved for approval of the minutes from the June History Advisory Committee (HAC) meeting as amended (clarification of a quotation from that prior meeting). The approval was seconded, and the motion carried unanimously.
Remarks by the Director of the Foreign Service Institute
Immerman then introduced Ambassador Daniel B. Smith, Director of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). Ambassador Smith began by noting that this was now his second appearance at a HAC quarterly meeting since the Office of the Historian (OH) became part of FSI. He was initially introduced at the June meeting. Smith then proceeded to thank David Langbart from the National Archives (NARA) for providing him together with FSI Deputy Director Ambassador Julieta Noyes and OH Director Adam Howard with a tour of the NARA-College Park facility. He noted that he will strongly encourage other Department of State (DOS) officials to take the tour to learn more about NARA and about the Department’s archives. Smith also thanked Jim Grossman, Executive Director for the American Historical Association (AHA) and Seth Denbo, AHA Director of Scholarly Communication and Digital Initiatives, for meeting with him and Howard to discuss ways to publicize the Foreign Relations of the United States series (FRUS) to wider and more varied audiences and for opportunities for AHA and OH collaboration. Finally, Smith thanked the HAC as well for their efforts in putting out the HAC annual report.
Smith turned to OH business. He stated that the FRUS General Editor position announcement had been posted. He expected the position to be filled later this fall and that he would be introducing the new General Editor at the December HAC meeting. He also highlighted the publication of the first FRUS volume in 2019, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1977–1980, Volume XIX, South Asia, which has already gotten significant public and attention, including mention in the media in India. Smith next reported on an interview three FRUS historians conducted with former Secretary of State Colin Powell in August during which Secretary Powell answered their questions about the foreign policy of President George H.W. Bush’s administration. Smith stressed the importance to FRUS historians to have such meetings with former U.S. Government officials to provide the historical context for FRUS research. Smith emphasized that he and FSI would endeavor to assist OH in continued access to these senior officials. Smith concluded by noting that he had just signed off on the plan to have HAC members serve two terms, which he considered sensible.
Smith and Immerman then opened the meeting up to questions from attendees. HAC member Mary Dudziak began by asking Smith in what ways the HAC can best assist him and OH. Smith answered that the HAC’s Annual Report is very helpful and that the HAC provides a unique ability to offer necessary candor in evaluating the FRUS process. The report provides OH the leverage with its inter-agency partners. Dudziak followed up her initial question with a question about the role that the public can play to promote awareness of FRUS. Smith responded that while the utility of FRUS is clear to members of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), there are many historians outside of SHAFR who do not necessarily identify as scholars of U.S. foreign policy yet would benefit from FRUS. Smith provided the example of a historian of modern South Africa.
The AHA’s Denbo stated that his organization can highlight for the public information contained in FRUS beyond foreign relations policy. HAC member David Engerman added that OH was more than just the compiler and publisher of FRUS. OH, he said, was the leading edge the declassification of U.S. Government records. HAC member Laura Belmonte joined this discussion by stating that OH’s Policy Studies and Special Projects divisions also played an important role in informing and educating the public.
William Burr of the National Security Archives next asked about progress on the status of the release of the 1980s P-Reels. Both Immerman and Langbart stated that they were not the ones to answer that question, which was more appropriately answered by William Fischer of the NARA’s National Declassification Center, who would be at the afternoon session of the HAC meeting. Immerman did express concern about how much this matter was considered a priority. Langbart noted that resolving the P-Reel issue is necessary before progress is made accessioning additional Central Foreign Policy File records.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Immerman then turned the session over to OH Director Adam Howard for his update. According to Howard the 1977–1980 South Asia volume mentioned by Smith was the first FRUS volume to be published under the FSI banner. So far in 2019, OH has submitted three new FRUS volumes to the declassification process. He further announced that thirteen FRUS volumes in the George H.W. Bush sub-series are currently underway. He also thanked Grossman and Denbo of AHA for AHA’s efforts to publicize the FRUS series and work of OH. Howard concluded by emphasizing that the OH website (history.state.gov) contained a great deal more information and resources beyond electronic copies of the FRUS series. At this point, Dudziak briefly noted that the legal community and professors of law was another potential audience for FRUS and Howard added to that the journalist community.
Once Howard was finished, Immerman offered more information about the Annual Report. He observed that it was posted on the website of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, but said that the HAC brainstormed further on ways to publicize the report and improve its accessibility. After making comments on the report, Immerman closed the morning session.
Closed Session, September 9
Status of Declassification of Department of State Records
Immerman welcomed everyone back and turned the floor over to IPS. Eric Stein introduced Susan Weetman, IPS Deputy Director noting that in the future, Weetman would take point for IPS on reporting to the HAC and on FRUS matters. She would begin work on her new portfolios at the beginning of the new calendar year.
Stein told the HAC that the A bureau got a new Assistant Secretary in August, and unrelated, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) litigation cases were up from the previous year. In late June, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent a memo to the agencies regarding e-records mandating that agencies digitize all paper records and go paperless by 2022. The Department’s work to create an e-Records archive and the IPS effort to review all records schedules agency-wide have put the Department in a good position to accomplish the tasking but additional resources will be required.
Eventually, IPS would like to establish a Declassification branch to oversee Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) and declassification. Currently, one branch chief oversees the classification and declassification programs. Stein told the HAC that IPS is planning to send the members updates on where they are with the new initiatives. Tim Kootz would send the HAC an updated briefing. The Department leadership is fully supporting of IPS’s mission.
Following a review of the budget, IPS located resources to purchase tools to digitize N and P records so that they can be processed by the Department.
The Department is transitioning its FOIA program to FOIAXpress—a tool to manage the FOIA cases. FOIAXpress is cloud based and is fully integrated with the e-Records system, which is also cloud based and leverages artificial intelligence (AI). The existing FOIA case management system and the State Archiving System (SAS) system for cable traffic will be sunset by the end of FY 2020; all SAS content will be migrated to eRecords.
Discussing the IPS reorganization, Stein told the HAC that the new leadership at IPS is in place as of August 2019 and full FRUS work would start in October. Keri Lewis is moving to another part of IPS. The 25-year review process will be a photo-finish but IPS leadership thinks it can cross the line.
Howard began the Q and A session by seeking clarification on the process of replacing Keri Lewis as FRUS coordinator. Immerman offered appreciation for the work already done and the offer of additional briefings.
Dudziak asked how the FOIA process is affecting the work in other parts of IPS. Stein responded that IPS is carving out a budget for classification and declassification and that he expects more flexibility moving forward. Responding to Immerman’s question as to why there was a spike in new FOIA litigation cases, Stein said it was the new normal. Trudy Peterson asked about the volume of paper that needs to be digitized and what would become of the physical copies after digitization. Stein responded that he will have a better idea in December and would report at the next HAC meeting. He did note that a solution to the question about the physical copies is not currently apparent. Whatever the final decision, he assured the HAC that the Department would follow all federal regulations.
Office of Presidential Libraries
John Laster explained that Obama records have already been moved to NARA II, which was always a plan and not part of consolidation. He said he had nothing else on the consolidation plan.
Laster then went back to a question Howard raised in the last HAC meeting concerning the Reagan and Bush emails. He explained that at the time, these emails were not considered to be unique records that required retention. DOJ lawyers, on behalf of the Reagan administration, argued that emails were the equivalent of sticky notes and could be deleted at the end of the administration. However, a federal judge ordered that the back-up tapes should be retained pending the outcome of litigation. During the Clinton years, the emails were restored from these back-up tapes. However, they weren’t searchable or really readable, though all the data was preserved. In partnership with the Applied Research Lab, techs were able to better order the emails and eliminate duplicates bringing the totals from 171,000 Reagan emails/notes to 80,000 and 263,000 Bush 41 emails/notes to 100,000. In answer to a question by Howard, Laster said that the switch from the PROFs system to an All-in-One system happened during the Reagan years, but it was not a clean switch. So, both systems were in use for a time. NARA is working to identify someone with the appropriate clearances and expertise to add the search engine to the Bush emails so they can be accessed in the same manner as the Reagan emails.
National Declassification Center
The Director of the National Declassification Center (NDC), William Fischer, opened his report by noting that that on October 1 and 2 the NDC would hold its biannual declassification framing symposium. This year the symposium will focus on updated agency declassification guidelines.
Fischer then outlined the NDC’s effort to proceed with the systematic review of the 1980 P-reels. Fischer reported that the NDC has digital copies of the 1980 and 1981 P-reels (which had been prepared some years ago). Those files could not be reviewed on the NDC system because they contained some “misfiled” material. The NDC has developed a process to separate the “misfiled” records. Once that process has been completed, the NDC will launch a pilot program in which Department reviewers will perform an initial declassification review. Once the Department has completed that initial review (including flagging any referrals to other agencies), NARA will be able to accession the 1980 Central Foreign Policy File (i.e., the D, N, and P-reels). Once NARA has accessioned the 1980 Central Foreign Policy File, NARA will be able to start processing those records, which will then be made available to the public. Fischer noted that NDC’s Special Media Review Unit, which had recently been added to the NDC, would handle the project.
Immerman, who noted that a Department representative had informed the committee that the Department needed more money to pay for scanning the P-reels, asked which years had been scanned. Fischer noted that the 1980 and 1981 P-reels had been digitized a few years ago.
Immerman asked if Fischer could estimate when the Department might complete the initial declassification review of the 1980 P-reels. Fischer stated that they should be transferred to the NDC declassification system during the first quarter of FY 2020, after which it would be up to the Department to review them. A Department representative said that they would update the committee regarding the review of the 1980 P-reels at the December meeting. Fischer further explained that once the declassification review had been completed NARA’s research services would need to process the records before they could be made available to the public.
Turning to the NDC’s other activities, Fischer reported that the center had posted lists of its second and third quarter releases on the NDC website and that the NDC staff was starting to gain intellectual control of the Obama administration’s classified collections, which had recently been moved from Chicago to NARA II.
Langbart began his remarks by referencing his written answers to questions posed to him by the Committee during the June meeting. He stated that he did not intend to go through the answers one-by-one and instead asked the Committee if they had any further questions about his responses.
Immerman responded by asking Langbart about NARA job losses. How many losses had there been and how many NARA staff were currently allocated to assisting researchers? Langbart responded that NARA’s Research Services currently had 556 staff, down from approximately 590. However, he noted, that 590 was an already-low figure due to understaffing. Langbart continued by pointing out that NARA was unable to add new staff until current staffing went below established baselines, a policy that applied within Research Services as well. Each unit within Research Services also had baseline staffing levels; until staffing levels went below these, units could not add more staff. Immerman followed up by asking if he could break the figures down into supervisors and supervised staff. Peterson, too, asked if Langbart could identify how many staff were DC area-based and how many were in other parts of the country. Langbart responded that he did not have these figures, but informed them he would get those answers for them.
Immerman then began a discussion with Langbart about the state of NARA finding aids, specifically whether these sufficiently enabled researchers to discover access to the available records. The Committee made its unhappiness with finding aids clear. Immerman said it was the “leading issue” of stakeholder organizations. In response to a question, Langbart offered his personal assessment.
Discussion then moved to the “One Pull” policy at NARA II. Immerman then asked whether this would continue as permanent policy. Langbart responded by saying that the policy is due to be evaluated at the end of FY 2019. While caveating that a final decision is still to be determined, his guess was that it would become permanent. He informed the Committee that feedback on the policy had been largely positive. This began a dialogue between Langbart and Dudziak about the value of outside input, specifically from SHAFR and other professional organizations. Dudziak asserted that these organizations could be very helpful to NARA by suggesting possible refinements to current practice. Langbart responded by saying he would forward he suggestion. Lentz-Smith pointed out that there were correlations to be drawn between researcher needs, NARA’s pull policy, and the nature of finding aids. She suggested that researchers attempting to make use of the finding aids would try to compensate for the aids’ shortcomings by initiating more pull requests. Belmonte seconded Lentz-Smith’s argument. Langbart acknowledged that this was a good point. Immerman reiterated the value of outside input, noting that of course such input did not necessarily imply a NARA obligation to accept it. Dudziak emphasized that the input process also enabled the Committee to help further NARA’s interests, by interpreting its policies to the wider researcher community.
Langbart moved on to discuss the processing of records. He noted that processing covered RGs 286 and 420. Included in that was accreting about 100 feet of records into AID Executive Secretariat files. He went on to report that while the FY 2020 work plan had not yet been finalized, the foreign affairs aspect of the work will likely focus on RGs 59 and 84.
Turning to reference matters, Langbart stated that there had been 60,000 reference requests processed by Research Services nationwide so far in the fiscal year, 4000 at Archives II, just since the last HAC meeting.
Langbart noted that there were no Catalog updates to report since the last meeting.
Langbart reported that the reintegration of declassified Department telegrams into the Central Foreign Policy File was proceeding and that slow progress was being made.
Langbart went on to highlight the value of FRUS for researchers who are researching topics unrelated to U.S. foreign relations, observing that the Archives had many foreign researchers looking for reporting on their own home countries for insights into those countries’ histories (especially those countries which do not have open archives). He noted that FRUS acted as a guide to the files for all researchers. At the same time, there are many relevant subjects for these researchers that FRUS does not cover, but that the files do. Because of this, he asked the Committee to promote the Archives while they promote FRUS. In response, Dudziak underlined the value of material in the files for the study of constitutional matters worldwide and emphasized that, for many researchers on these subjects, the local materials which U.S. diplomats attach to their memos, etc., are extremely important. She expressed concern that these attachments be given due consideration in document processing and digitization. Langbart replied that these attachments—just like any documents in the files—are considered part of the records and, as such, are processed along with everything else. He added that the only items not digitized were documents that were obvious duplicates found immediately adjacent to one another in the files.
Langbart then discussed the digitization of Department of State P-reel documents. He stated that if they were processed in electronic form, as opposed to hardcopy, they needed to figure out how to insert withdrawal notices into the files in place of documents that have been pulled, observing that it was NARA policy to indicate when a document had been withdrawn. Langbart noted that once a solution was found, they could move forward with processing the electronic telegrams and electronic index, cautioning that these had their own process for review, including for privacy information. He emphasized that all of these steps take time. Processing progress may be slow, but this was because every step held the possibility of opening the door to new processing tasks.
Immerman closed by noting with pleasure the progress noted in Langbart’s comments.
Richard Immerman welcomed the Chief Operating Officer of the National Archives, William “Jay” Bosanko. Bosanko said that he would address the HAC’s questions regarding the consolidation of records from the Presidential Libraries.
Bosanko stated that the records, after their transfer to DC, would be maintained in the exact manner as they were in at the presidential libraries. The records would be returned to the presidential libraries on a “case by case” basis and as soon as they are declassified.
Regarding the concern that there would be a loss of subject matter experts with this move, Bosanko emphasized that the NDC staff are not generalists and that they would serve as subject matter experts to help researchers along with staff at the Libraries. He added that there are 50 members of the NDC staff, and that their expertise cuts across administrations. He noted that FOIA will be handled in communication between the Presidential Libraries and the NDC; there would be very little change to existing policy, but added that the NDC will be able to work with equity agencies more easily because most of those agencies are located in the DC area.
Bosanko then added that the consolidation of classified presidential library documents to the DC area was designed to take place over a three-year window and the transferred materials will be kept at a new space at the National Archives at College Park. Bosanko said that he wanted to minimize the negative impact to FRUS. He further stated that some archivists at presidential libraries may join the NDC staff. He concluded by stating that the FRUS researchers will have a larger team to work with and the Office of the Historian will receive better support and need to travel less often.
Bosanko then deferred to the attendees for questions, and answered questions posed by the committee and members of the Office. The committee engaged in a short discussion about the process of moving the collections and whether classified material, once declassified, would be moved back to the libraries. Bosanko responded affirmatively.
After thanking Bosanko for his comments, Immerman closed the session.
Closed Session, September 10
Presentation and Discussion on Current Office Research and Annotation
Immerman called the session to order and Howard introduced Margaret Ball.
Ball discussed her work on the recent compilation, Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XIV, Japan; Korea, outlining the central themes that emerged during her research and her observations regarding key topics in the volume. She then answered several research questions.
Department of Defense
Immerman called the meeting to order and introduced George “Frosty” Sturgis from DOD’s Office of Pre-Publication Services.
Sturgis said he was happy to address the Advisory Committee but said that he had nothing new to report since his appearance at the June meeting. This appearance is mainly about strengthening the relationship between his office, OH, and the HAC. The office had been unable to return any referrals to OH for a number of reasons, the lack of response from reviewing components/offices within DOD.
Ashley said that back in the spring he was told that Sturgis was planning to meet with his counterpart in the reviewing offices to see if they could expedite declassification review. Sturgis said his discussions with his counterpart indicate that his office also would need to receive input from senior officials in order to resolve the logjam.
Immerman thanked Sturgis for the steps he has taken so far, and then asked why certain reviewing offices within DOD remain stumbling blocks. Sturgis explained that his office is only the facilitator of FRUS referrals, not the equity holders. They farm out the documents to the relevant offices that then perform the declassification review. When they are returned to his office, he and his staff review the responses and if it passes their internal tests, the documents are returned to OH. If they do not pass that test, they will edit it until it releases or protects relevant information. His office will also provide the justification for withholding of information. These other offices also have to review manuscripts and other referrals in addition to FRUS. Only senior DOD leadership will be able to make FRUS a priority.
Howard said he has talked about how OH can facilitate reviews, in particular the idea that compilers and/or declassification coordinators from OH can help DOD reviewers by explaining what the series covers, the age of the documents, and the like. Sturgis said he was willing to do that but cannot speak for the DOD reviewing offices. He will continue to try to meet with those offices.
Howard said OH is hoping that DOD will adopt the Department’s IPS model, i.e., create a team dedicated to FRUS, perhaps with declassification authority.
Immerman asked whether anyone at DOD had read the HAC Report, which was just released and is online, and if not, who in senior leadership needs to read it. Howard reiterated that the report is online and that he would send Sturgis the link. Sturgis said he didn’t know if anyone at DOD read the report, but he will distribute it.
Immerman noted that the HAC report acknowledged that Sturgis had come in after years of declassification problems with DOD, and reiterated the HAC’s long frustration with the pace of reviews. He thanked Sturgis for coming, because the situation must be fixed.
McCoyer asked about the process and why FRUS reviews are coordinated with the Office of Pre-Publication and Review, which is a completely different category from a General who submits their memoir to the Office. Why are historical documents put under that category when they are subject to different statutes? Sturgis replied that someone at DOD needs to review the documents and manuscripts regardless of their age and category.
Rasmussen seconded McCoyer’s point and asked what type of training is given to reviewers for all types of referrals. Sturgis said he doesn’t know and will ask the reviewing offices. His office has offered to provide training by experts in historical document review but hasn’t had a lot of response, so only a few have actually been trained in the declassification guidelines.
Ashley said that DOD needs to adopt the Department’s IPS model and get a group dedicated to FRUS. Sturgis agreed but stated that right now all components with equity in the referred documents must review documents. Until that changes and everyone agrees to one group the status quo will continue. Ashley said that DOD needs a National Declassification Center just like NARA’s.
Sturgis reiterated that funding has been cut and it will need to be restored, along with other process improvements, in order to fix the problem.
Wilson asked whether there is one person at a senior level at DOD who can send down a directive that will address the declassification problem. Sturgis said that all areas in the declassification process need to be improved, and that it is not just one office. Whoever makes that directive has to be able to pressure all of those responsible for document review to change the process.
Dudziak asked if the HAC can do anything to help, such as visiting the DOD offices as it has done with the CIA, which she believes has helped improve the relationship between the HAC and CIA. History is so important to the DOD’s mission and she hopes it can be prioritized. She also reiterated the HAC’s statutory responsibilities and that it is required to report to Congress. It is in everyone’s interest to fix the problems. Sturgis agreed.
Immerman thanked Sturgis for coming and said he would see him at the December meeting. The session ended at 10:53 a.m.