Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation December 7–8, 2015
- Richard Immerman, Chairman
- Laura Belmonte
- Mary L. Dudziak
- James McAllister
- Robert McMahon
- Susan Perdue
- Trudy Peterson
- Katherine Sibley
- Thomas Zeiler
Office of the Historian
- Stephen Randolph, Historian
- Kristin Ahlberg
- Carl Ashley
- Forrest Barnum
- Sara Berndt
- Joshua Botts
- Myra Burton
- Tiffany Cabrera
- Seth Center
- Mandy Chalou
- Elizabeth Charles
- Joel Christenson
- Erin Cozens
- Evan Duncan
- Stephanie Eckroth
- Thomas Faith
- David Geyer
- Renée Goings
- Charles Hawley
- Kerry Hite
- Adam Howard
- Aiyaz Husain
- Ted Mann
- Aaron Marrs
- William McAllister
- Michael McCoyer
- Heather McDaniel
- Christopher Morrison
- David Nickles
- Paul Pitman
- Alex Poster
- Kathleen Rasmussen
- Seth Rotramel
- Avi Rubin
- Daniel Rubin
- Nathaniel Smith
- Melissa Jane Taylor
- Chris Tudda
- Dean Weatherhead
- Tracy Whittington
- Joe Wicentowski
- Alexander Wieland
- Louise Woodroofe
- David Zierler
Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources
- Ambassador Janice Jacobs, Transparency Coordinator
Bureau of Administration
- David Adamson
- Jeff Charlston
- William Fischer
- Keri Lewis
- Marvin Russell
National Archives and Records Administration
- Cathleen Brennan, Archives II Reference Branch
- David Fort, National Declassification Center
- Meghan Ryan Guthorn, Textual Records Division/Accessioning Section
- Philip Heslip, Archives II Processing Branch
- David Langbart, Textual Records Division
- Don McIlwain, Initial Processing and Declassification Division
- William Mayer, Executive for Research Services
- William Burr
- Lee White
Open Session, December 7
Approval of the Record of the August-September 2015 Meeting
Chairman Richard Immerman opened the session at 11:00 a.m. by welcoming everyone and initiating a vote to approve the minutes from the August-September 2015 meeting. The Committee approved the minutes of the previous meeting with one revision: Mary Dudziak’s presence had been left out. Tom Zeiler then nominated Immerman to continue as chair, which was seconded by all.
Immerman then introduced Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Valerie Fowler.
Remarks by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs
Fowler remarked on the wonder that is the most recent digitization of old volumes and that she’d been thinking about the 1941 volume given the date of December 7. She thanked the Committee for their help in continuing such a great series. Immerman expressed the Committee’s gratitude to Fowler for the Bureau’s support of the Office and for all the ways she and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Douglas Franz made the Committee’s work easier. He then invited Stephen Randolph to take the floor.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Randolph thanked Fowler, as well as the Bureau’s front office, for their excellent support of the Office. He then reviewed the last year’s personnel changes. The Office brought in Joel Christenson and Heather McDaniel. Lindsay Krasnoff left for a new position. Melissa Jane Taylor transferred to the Policy Studies Division, and Randolph commended her on her excellent contributions to the FRUS series.
Randolph noted that 16 months have passed since the Office moved into the new building and he thanked the security team for their work. He reminded everyone of the successful international conference for Diplomatic Documentary Editors that the Office hosted in April 2015, and he thanked Renée Goings, Fowler, and Tiffany Cabrera in particular, who had really “wrestled it to the ground.”
In other office news, Randolph highlighted the release of some long-delayed volumes and thanked Alex Poster for his work on these orphan volumes, Chris Tudda and the Editing Division for American Republics, and David Geyer for his work on Chile. In Policy Studies, he mentioned Christenson’s arrival in the Office just in time to work on U.S.-Cuba relations. Randolph thanked those who taught at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and mentioned the current work that Aiyaz Husain, Tracy Whittington, and Ted Mann are doing on the Middle East Peace Plan project.
Finally, Randolph and Fowler discussed the digital publishing progress. Randolph thanked everyone involved across agencies.
Status Report by the General Editor
General Editor Adam Howard offered many thanks to Fowler for her generous assistance and efforts to secure resources for the Office. Howard continued with an overview of the status of publication of the Foreign Relations series. He noted that by the close of 2015, the Office will have published 19 volumes in a 2-year period for the first time since 1992–1993; it will have published 10 or more volumes for the first time since 2006; and that the Office will publish its first volume at the 31-year deadline since 2007. In addition, the Office added 18 newly-digitized back catalog volumes to the website.
Immerman noted that the Committee had been focusing on the declassification side of its mandate and by comparison neglecting to focus on the FRUS series itself. This was mostly because the series has been so successful of late. Immerman expressed delight at the performance of the Office, stating there was no way to exaggerate the Committee’s pleasure about the current state of business. He said the Committee looks forward to future success and he congratulated Howard on the staggering production numbers.
Randolph noted the approaching retirement of Peter N. from the Central Intelligence Agency and thanked him for being a wonderful professional. Immerman agreed and thanked Peter N. for his efforts to improve the process.
Howard concluded his portion of the agenda by thanking all of the agencies who helped the Office to reach its current publication status.
Status of Declassification of Department of State Records
Jeff Charlston distributed an updated set of charts detailing the work of the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS). He acknowledged some recent setbacks, noting that the Systematic Review Program division was in the midst of major changes, the FRUS and electronic branches had been relocated to a new workspace, and that paper review had been moved to temporary quarters in a very small space.
Charlston stated that IPS had kept pace with FRUS publishing, and he was working on ways to streamline declassification processes. He noted that three FRUS volumes had been verified since the last meeting, and eight volumes total had been verified during 2015. He said his office had handled 3,024 Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR), Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and “other” requests along with FRUS cases.
Immerman asked if that number of FOIA requests reflected an increase. Charlston said the number had increased dramatically and he was anticipating more increases in the future. Fowler stated that the Department had been seeing more requests in general.
Immerman asked if he could see a breakdown of the requests by time period. Charlston said that would be opening a “big can of worms” and that there was a slowdown in processing the requests because of the move. He said he was looking to improve the methods in which the reviews were handled. Charlston stated that IPS would be completing the 1986–1990 paper bloc by December 31, and that any documents that were not reviewed would automatically be declassified per Executive Order. He said he had triaged the documents to make sure anything not reviewed was of low status and risk. He said that more than 4 million documents had been reviewed, and that only around 23,000 had been withheld—a greater-than-99 percent release rate, which was better than the usual (roughly) 98.5 percent release rate. Charlston noted that his office was working on the 1990 classified cables, and that the 1980–1981 P-Reels were ready for transfer to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Of the electronic records, IPS had completed 1.3 million reviews and released 44.2 percent of the documents. He said that the low release rate was deceiving, because the 1.3 million incoming figure included unclassified documents but the release rate is calculated with only declassified, formerly classified, documents set against the total 1.3 million figure. He said he was trying to make the reviewing system more efficient and transparent. Charlston added that the Remote Archives Capture (RAC) was keeping pace with the Presidential libraries and that he was sending additional reviewers to the National Declassification Center (NDC) because of the constraints of the new quarters.
Trudy Peterson asked where information about microfilm was located on the chart, and Charlston replied that a new process involving the digitization of the microfilm made the old chart entries obsolete.
Peterson asked if there were other differences between the current chart and the previous chart, and Charlston said there was very little change—maybe some progress with the classified telegrams only.
Immerman asked if the technical issues had changed, and Charlston stated they had not.
Peterson asked if there would be a report on the release of the microfilm. Charlston said yes, he would re-categorize the chart in the future.
Immerman asked if the Committee should be encouraged by IPS’s results.
Charlston stated that they should be encouraged by improvements in processes and efficiencies, and they should be somewhat encouraged by at least most of the documents making the December 31 deadline. He said he was tentatively optimistic in general.
James Wilson asked if the increase in FOIA requests was because of the new electronic submission form on the Department’s website, and Charlston said no. He explained that the form had been added in response to an increase in the volume of requests.
Katherine Sibley suggested that the electronic form could also be driving up the volume of requests.
Fowler and Charlston both added that the electronic form added better tracking to FOIA requests.
Immerman then asked for questions from the floor.
William Burr asked about the status of the Iran retrospective volume.
Fowler said that the timeline was to release the volume at the earliest possible moment, but that external developments and considerations were important, too.
Immerman stated that Frantz and Fowler had tried to help with the volume’s release.
Randolph ended the discussion by applauding Fowler’s tenure and thanking her for her service.
The Committee adjourned for lunch at noon.
Closed Session, December 7
Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of Records at the National Archives
Immerman convened the session at 1:25 p.m. and asked Don McIlwain of the National Declassification Center for his report.
McIlwain said that the National Declassification Center (NDC) had continued Indexing-On-Demand (IOD), and so far 4 million pages have been received for review. He distributed a list of some 20 projects requested by researchers, which he expected to ultimately result in 6 million pages to be reviewed. Immerman asked if there was a bump when it was posted on the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) Passport website. McIlwain said he was not sure. He suggested that the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Decimal Files could be their next special project supported by historians.
Regarding FOIA and MDR requests, McIlwain said these requests demonstrate the need for collaborative consulting between the NDC and other agencies. He noted that NDC cannot unilaterally declassify a FOIA request. Using agency representatives already at NARA to make decisions rather than sending them out to agencies for review sped up the process. He said the Department also participated in this endeavor.
He observed that the Department of Energy (DOE) has begun review of the 1978 P-reel paper printouts. DOE’s participation at the August–September Committee meeting helped them recognize how important they are to the entire review and declassification process. Once this review finishes, the items can be put out on the shelves. The next years for review will be 1977, then 1979, but McIlwain didn’t know why they were not done in chronological order.
McIlwain also noted the high number of Navy records requests. These series requests work better with Indexing on Demand (IOD) services, and they are able to get more records out more quickly: “a win-win for researchers.” This also increases the morale of the NDC’s personnel.
Immerman asked who was making requests. McIlwain responded that the spike in Navy records requests might be due to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other issues surrounding litigation of Navy properties.
Peterson asked about the OSD Central File. Her notes from the September Committee meeting indicated only 48 percent release rate.
McIlwain replied that if they go back to OSD and say a) it’s a special project and b) they request a redaction response rather than pass/fail, the release rate increases.
Zeiler asked if the NDC prioritizes by size of the collection or cubic feet. McIlwain replied yes to the former, and sometimes, if they think a box or a series is lightly tabbed for agency referral, it will go faster. “Triaging” is an art, not a science. Sometimes they have UD records that are difficult. Peterson asked what UD meant. David Langbart replied that they are “Undescribed”; a series of records without finding aids. He noted that Transfer Request Forms need specific titles of collections and legal restrictions cleared so the records can be processed correctly and in a timely manner.
Immerman stated that IOD is a mechanism to get records requests back to researcher. McIlwain noted that using IOD will get a series out of declassification quicker and also to the correct personnel at NARA who can process records to make them available to the public.
Sibley noted that the NDC was created in 2009, and asked how McIlwain thought it would be affected by a new administration. McIlwain replied that he assumed it will remain active regardless of who the next President is, and hoped that declassification would not be politicized.
Randolph asked whether an OSD accession gets returned to OSD. McIlwain replied that since the records have already been processed by DOD reviewers and the NDC, so they would remain at NARA.
Immerman thanked McIlwain for his comments and invited David Langbart to provide his report.
Langbart noted that since the previous meeting, no accession of foreign affairs records had occurred. The third quarter transfer was cancelled and a big transfer was planned for late December. His office had recently launched a major project to provide basic descriptive information for all foreign affairs records, since some of the descriptions are so cryptic or non-existent as to be barely useful. This encompasses some 1300 record entries—approximately 8000 cubic feet of records. Full descriptions will be developed when the records are archivally processed. He also noted that there had been a technical problem processing the 1979 electronic telegrams and P-Reel Index entries. The new target date is the end of March 2016. He continued that the project to digitize the microfilm of the 1906–1910 Numerical and Minor Files had run into problems. In the test environment, the microfilm images were visible, the PDFs didn’t load on the public website. Work is being done to figure out the problem. He will keep the Office and the Committee posted on status of these records.
William Mayer noted that this example demonstrated why NARA (and other sites) need a test environment before going live.
Langbart noted that at the last meeting he announced the declassification of the remaining classified documents from the 1940–1944 Central Decimal File. Since then, some additional 8,000 pages have been located and will be refiled in 2016. He also announced that the upgrades to the Advanced Search Feature in the Online National Archives Catalog will be delayed until January 2016. Finally, Langbart noted the promotion of Chris Naylor, the Director of the Textual Records Division, to Deputy Chief Operating Officer of Archives. He stated that while this is a big loss for his division, it is a good thing for the National Archives.
William Fischer said that 100 cubic feet of classified material from the Department was scheduled for transfer to NARA on December 17. He also mentioned that new IPS staff will be doing such transfers. He noted that the poor quality of the documentation had made it more difficult for the Department to do its 3rd quarter transfer so this material was pushed to the 4th quarter.
Langbart said each agency must describe their records more accurately so NARA can track them and know where they should go. That might not be what the researcher would want, but it is more helpful and makes it easier for NARA staff to locate records.
Peterson asked if 1940–1944 Decimal File had been declassified. Langbart replied that since the August–September meeting several thousand additional pages had been identified. The Department had released them all, but other agencies had not, so the review process continued.
Peterson asked about items withdrawn from the 1950–1959 Decimal File. Langbart replied that researchers will have to do a FOIA for these because they are pass/fail in terms of declassification.
Peterson also asked about the 1945–1949 Decimal File. Langbart replied that the same process as the 1950–1959 Decimal File will have to be followed to make those records available.
Immerman asked why some agencies are more responsive than others. Langbart replied that agencies still had an interest in these documents, but he noted that after FOIAs most of the information is coming back as released. McIlwain said that after a FOIA, all an agency may care about is one phrase in a 20-page document. In that case, the NDC can make a redaction and release the remainder.
Langbart said the problem was that NARA does not have the resources to systematically review the files to prepare redacted copies. McIlwain said collaborative consultation can improve this. He’d like agencies to delegate to the NDC with instructions about what to redact so that documents don’t have to be sent out for review. This level of trust, however, has not yet been established.
Immerman then asked Mayer to discuss NARA staffing.
Mayer noted the staffing change that Langbart had mentioned and said Naylor’s position will be filled. Since October 2014, 213 positions, or 1/3 of the force, had been filled. At a previous Committee meeting he had proclaimed 2015 to be NARA’s “Year of the Student,” but unfortunately all student positions at NARA were canceled. However, they created positions at the GS–05 to GS–07 range for Archives Technicians, which would be a pathway to entry-level Archivist positions. Their next project will try to standardize Archivist positions nation-wide. By November 2015, 57 position requests had been approved. However, “it is one thing to get position approved, another to fill it,” and NARA only has an 80-day window.
Immerman asked about the training for new staff. Mayer replied that historians with Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees are not doing very challenging work so far.
Mayer then turned to the issue of physical space for the records. NARA was working to find existing government-owned space, or to purchase buildings. All federal bankruptcy records will relocate to the Kansas City facility, which will temporarily ease the space issue, but the future looks troubling for the next 20–30 years unless NARA gets more space. Not all records can be digitized.
Mayer then turned to the issue of NARA’s online Catalog, and noted the difficulty of uploading some 25 million images. The situation was now a “severe crisis” because despite the updated catalog descriptions, the challenge of getting the technology to work properly made the new system moot. Research Services does not control the catalog but is responsible for the input.
Mayer noted that as of November 1, 2015, every archival facility is open Monday through Friday. Only NARA I and II are open on Saturdays, but no new information pulls are done on weekends.
Dudziak noted in her own recent experiences at NARA that there was no tension between researchers and staff in the Public Research Room compared to a decade ago. She added that the personnel in Still Pictures were great and asked how the news of moving of records would be announced. Mayer thanked her for her praise and said the news is out but he wants to do more.
Langbart closed the session by asking the Committee members to remind their students or colleagues to write to the Archives first before showing up to do research. He and his staff can provide more information and be more helpful that way.
The Committee adjourned for a break at 2:20 p.m.
Closed Session Continued, December 7
Discussion of Department of State’s Records Management Initiatives
Immerman called the Committee into session at 2:30 p.m. and welcomed Ambassador Janice Jacobs, the Transparency Coordinator for the Department of State.
Ambassador Jacobs offered a brief précis of her distinguished career in the Foreign Service. She noted that Secretary Kerry had appointed her as a demonstration of his strong interest in improving records management practices and promoting transparency across the department. She hoped to implement guidelines to meet two deadlines listed in a 2012 OMB/NARA mandate to improve electronic recordkeeping. By December 31, 2016, all agencies must manage email records electronically and by December 2019, agencies must manage all records electronically (including social media, SharePoint collections, shared drives and other non-email digital records. She noted her intent to study best practices from other agencies (e.g. NARA, Interior) and introduce them at State. She observed that her appointment was for a year, meaning she wouldn’t be personally able to achieve these goals, but hoped she could set things in motion and create the conditions to reach them.
Immerman then opened the floor to questions. Ambassador Jacobs fielded a number of queries from Committee members, Office staff, and others interested in the future of records management at the Department. Ambassador Jacobs noted there were a number of challenges presented by the proliferation of records (electronic and conventional) and that the adoption of better practices, improved planning, and the hiring of additional employees to work in these areas would be undertaken to achieve better results.
Many questions centered on the problem of emails, Ambassador Jacobs noted that a new ‘Capstone’ system of record capture had been deployed, which should minimize future issues with email records.
Discussion of the State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset (SMART) system followed, including a potential new interface to try to capture more record emails. Jacobs noted that present capture of information on shared drives and SharePoint was unstructured. Jacobs agreed with questioners that there must a common interest in both security and records management.
Jacobs discussed how the Department is organized for records management, including how IPS can implement the authorities it already has. Current oversight is minimal, and Jacobs said she believes there are ways to build accountability and improve oversight.
The Committee and Jacobs briefly discussed the problem of over-classification and whether classification guidelines should be rethought.
The Committee adjourned for the day at 4 p.m.
Closed Session, December 8
Presentation and discussion on current Office research and annotation
Immerman called the session to order at 9:05 a.m., and the General Editor introduced Erin Cozens.
Cozens discussed her work on a recent compilation focusing on Southeast Asia and the Pacific, 1981–1988, outlining the central themes that emerged during her research, her observations regarding the key topics in the documents, and how the volume might illuminate previously overlooked aspects of some events.
The meeting adjourned to Executive Session at 10:15 a.m.