Learn about the beta

December 2016

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation December 12-13, 2016

Minutes

Committee Members

  • Richard Immerman, Chairman
  • Laura Belmonte
  • Mary 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Joe Wicentowski
  • Alexander Wieland
  • James Wilson
  • Louise Woodroofe
  • David Zierler

Bureau of Administration

  • David Adamson
  • Jeff Charlston
  • John Hackett
  • Tim Kootz
  • Keri Lewis
  • Marvin Russell

National Archives and Records Administration

  • Cathleen Brennan, Textual Records Division/Archives II Reference Branch
  • Lisa Clavelli, Records Appraisal and Agency Assistance
  • Meghan Ryan Guthorn, Textual Records Division/Accessioning Section
  • David Langbart, Textual Records Division
  • Don McIlwain, National Declassification Center
  • Amy Reytar, Archives II Reference Branch
  • Meredith Scheiber, Records Appraisal and Agency Assistance
  • Erin Townsend, Director, Textual Records Division
  • Amanda Weimer, National Declassification Center

Public

  • William Burr

Open Session, December 12

Approval of the Record of the August 2016 Meeting

Chairman Richard Immerman opened the session at 11:05 a.m. Immerman expressed the Committee’s gratitude for the refreshments and then moved to approve the minutes of the August 29 meeting. The Committee approved the minutes. Katherine Sibley moved to nominate Immerman to continue as chairman of the Committee, and her motion was unanimously approved by a voice vote of the Committee.

Report by the Historian

Historian Stephen Randolph reported on the Office and its programs. He noted that Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs John Kirby met with the Committee to discuss the recurring decision not to release the Iran retrospective volume. Kirby explained that the issue was raised regularly at the highest levels in the Department, and had still not received approval for release of the volume.

Immerman noted that previously the release of the volume was tied to certain milestones that had now passed. Since the current delay was predicated largely on the state of U.S.-Iran relations, he stated the Committee had no sense of if, or when, the volume would be released from its “continued state of indefinite hold.”

David Zierler asked what the Committee’s process would be with regard to the incoming administration, to which Immerman replied that much was still unknown with regard to who would fill positions in the Department under the new administration. He mentioned that the Committee might make an initial appeal on the Iran volume to the new leadership. Randolph stated that the Office would continue with efforts to educate the incoming leadership of our process and responsibilities as part of the ongoing transition.

Returning to his report to the Committee, Randolph welcomed Amanda Ross and Matt Regan to the Office, and discussed general administrative and personnel matters. He then lauded the most recent release of newly digitized volumes on the Office website, noting that this continued the effort to digitize and make available searchable versions of Foreign Relations volumes dating back to the first publication in 1861. He also heralded the recent publication of the volume covering the Carter administration’s Panama Canal treaty.

Report by the General Editor

General Editor Adam Howard reported that since the August meeting, the Office had published three Carter volumes, marking the halfway point in the Carter administration volumes. He noted that the recent publications brought the total number of volumes published in a three-year period to 25—improving on the previous record, set in 1994–1996, of 24. The Office had also received verification on one volume since August.

Questions

Bill Burr presented a proposal on behalf of a colleague requesting the Committee’s support for preserving the records of the recent Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. Immerman responded that the Committee supported the preservation and then inquired if there were additional actions that they should be taking to ensure the records were preserved.

Randolph confirmed that these records, like other born-digital records, were among those already part of the Department’s effort to ensure the capture and preservation of digital records. The Department had already implemented journaling and retention of all senior level email accounts, and like other agencies, was following actions to meet the 2019 mandate for permanent capture of electronic records.

Sibley asked if the suggestions in the proposal, including the recommendation for capturing oral histories, might parallel those measures involved in documenting the Dayton Peace Accords. David Geyer responded that although the Office was involved in the efforts, the key factor and facilitation had been Ambassador Holbrooke, who wanted to ensure the record was properly preserved. Zeiler asked if the oral history component might fall under the Special Projects division within the Office, and Randolph acknowledged that the Office currently performed oral history interviews on select topics. Immerman noted that given the limited resources within the office for oral history projects that other institutions such as the Miller Center, who already collect oral histories, might offer additional options. He stated that he would contact the Miller Center, and that the Committee would take the matter under advisement.

Joe Wicentowski thanked David Langbart for his assistance with the older citation styles that appeared in this quarter’s release of newly digitized materials. He stated that with the recent publications already mentioned by Howard, the total documents in the Foreign Relations digital archive had broken the 200,000 mark, reaching 216,000 pages. That represented 374 full text volumes now available for researchers.

Immerman commented that he had noticed an increased use among his undergraduate students of the digital resources on the Office website, which “impressed and delighted” him.

The Committee adjourned for lunch.

Closed Session, December 12

Status of Declassification of Department of State Records

Immerman convened the afternoon session at 1:06 p.m. and asked Charlston (IPS) to give his report.

Office of Information Programs and Services

Charlston passed out a progress chart to the Advisory Committee, pointing out that it was the same document that he distributed in September. Charlston noted that the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) would finish its current reviews by the end of the year. For the year, he observed, they had set production records, and complemented the work of Keri Lewis as a key part of this success. Charleston cited a 72% reduction in Mandatory Declassification Reviews (MDR) cases and the fact that they had reviewed 600,000 pages of material in October. Moreover, they had made progress with the Remote Access Capture (RAC) reviewing backlog of 1.4 million pages; Charlston noted that there had been a 28% increase in reviews and projected that the remaining 2016 work would be addressed by March 2017. In general, he reported, reviews tend to proceed with greater difficulty at the beginning of a given year, but improve as time goes on.

Charlston also discussed ongoing renovations to IPS space at Newington. The renovation, due to be completed by the end of January 2017, was undertaken in part to give the reviewers new space and improve productivity. Charlston reported that the electronic review branch will be brought to Newington, but that an 80% reduction in staff for this unit is anticipated. As a result, new personnel will need to be hired; Charlston added that he hoped that this would not result in problems. He noted the possibility of a hiring freeze hurting the managerial side.

Charlston reported the appointment of a new Records and Archives Management division chief, Tim Kootz, introduced him to the Advisory Committee, and invited him to report on his activities. Kootz updated the Committee on review activities, stating that 100 cubic feet of material had been reviewed since the last meeting, bringing the annual total to 400 cubic feet, and observing that it had been good to get through all legacy material. He then turned to IPS efforts to come up with alternative strategies for review and transfer of Department “P” and “N” reels in 2017. While acknowledging that an approach had yet to be determined and that funding had yet to be found, he positively characterized the effort to get plans in place.

Immerman interjected to ask what alternatives had been explored.

Kootz responded by discussing a method for reviewing used by the Department of the Navy which could be adopted by the Department. He also noted that MDR could be used to review microform records. Kootz noted that digitizing records was expensive; therefore they were looking for other methods. One possible approach would be to use Records Center staff to inventory everything currently in holdings, determine what is not digitized, and therefore see what resources would be needed.

Peterson asked a question about Department email and records capture system for the Secretary and Deputy Secretary: Did the system allow the ability to monitor whether email was being properly entered into the system? Kootz responded that records fell into two categories: permanent and non-permanent records. Lisa Clavelli added that this applied to record groups 59 and 84.

Peterson asked whether records managers can monitor the system to see that emails are entered into it properly. Kootz replied that record managers could monitor this, but that it was hard to determine whether they were being entered ‘properly.’ Control limits had not been established, he stated, first, we must gather the data to determine what is normal then evaluate those records that fall outside the control limits. He added, however, that there was the capability to reclassify records which had been incorrectly labelled as personal.

Immerman asked if there were other questions.

Goings complimented and congratulated Kootz on his new position and noted that he had been a ‘friend to the office,’ adding that he had been helpful in arranging needed access to records. Kootz reciprocated by noting that the Office had been helpful in arranging collaboration and coordination across multiple Department bureaus and offices.

Immerman stated that it might be appropriate for the Advisory Committee to make another visit to Newington during a future meeting and stated an intention to work out scheduling.

Peterson asked Charlston about reducing unnecessary referrals to other agencies on documents. How many referrals are there; how much input did IPS have? Charlston replied that they had substantial input and had been in touch with the Presidential Libraries about this. He observed that, generally, agencies were reluctant to release other agencies’ equities and that further training on equities was needed at the Presidential Libraries, requiring coordination with NARA. Charlston added, however, that even a 50% reduction of the current backlog would leave 700,000 pages of material. He reported that inter-agency guidance was needed to reduce inter-agency referrals and stated the need for robust training and the need for the Department to give training on site.

Immerman asked about frontloading the review of difficult records. What makes this difficult? Is it multiple agency equities? Charlston stated that review of Department lot files were frontloaded based upon knowledge of multiple equities, requiring page-by-page review. He estimated that this represented 40% of total.

Immerman stated that he was trying to gain understanding of the process and IPS nomenclature. Charlston replied by citing examples of difficult materials, e.g., those containing Restricted Data/Formerly Restricted Data (RD/FRD), documents covering intelligence sharing, and documents covering arms control. Charlston estimated that 20% of reviewed boxes need to be seen by other agencies. He added that 600,000 pages of material had been reviewed in October, representing 800 hours of review time. He reiterated that reviews of a given year go slower at the start; up to 40 hours can be spent on a single box of 2500 pages.

Randolph interjected to offer as an example the interagency declassification guidelines developed in consultation with John Powers (at the National Security Council) to address the test case of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Randolph reported that the Office had met with the Department of Energy (DOE) in effort to rationalize the declassification process and to develop guidance which would ‘sensitize’ other agencies to the issue.

In response, Charlston noted different access to other agencies that the Office possessed. In the case of INF, however, he noted that reviewers were individuals who possessed recent experience with other agencies and stated that he anticipated an ongoing dialogue with the Office on the subject of declass guidelines.

Immerman asked if there were further questions. When none were presented, he turned to McIlwain for his report at 1:33 p.m.

National Archives National Declassification Center

Don McIlwain reported that the 1978 P-Reels are back from the DOE for final indexing. On the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) side, they smashed their backlog goals. The NDC is hoping to move forward on doing some consulting on both FOIA and other historical requests with officials already on-site at NARA, so they don’t have to spend time and resources sending boxes around.

Immerman asked about indexing on demand. McIlwain said they had a slight increase in requests. He also mentioned that production could be affected by updates/renovations to their classified facilities.

Immerman asked how they’d made progress on the backlog. McIlwain replied that they had streamlined their processes a few years ago and that this was bearing fruit. They are also fully staffed and the staff is being more aggressive in follow-ups to non-compliant agencies.

Peterson asked why the DOE completed ’78 before ’77. McIlwain reported that the accession numbers were randomly lower for 78 than 77.

NARA Research Services

David Langbart opened the NARA Research Services portion of the session by introducing Erin Townsend, the new director of the Textual Records Division. He then presented a report on NARA’s coordination of records accessioning, records processing, and research services since the last meeting of the Committee. With regards to accessioning, he reported one transfer in RG 43, totaling less than one cubic foot; 65 transfers in RG 59, totaling about 423 cubic feet; and five transfers in RG 84 totaling about thirty cubic feet of records. Langbart informed the Committee of several processing initiatives, including a major project to prepare about 1500 cubic feet of United States Information Agency records for research. The project will be led by Philip Heslip and will make use of augmented processing procedures. He also updated the Committee about the completion of a major project to establish basic descriptive information in the Catalog for all records. The foreign affairs records-related aspect of this project involved 1800 series totaling almost 14,000 cubic feet in five record groups.

Langbart continued by following up on the Committee’s request from the August meeting to provide additional information about recently-accessioned National Security Agency (NSA) records. He reported that the records consist of approximately 19,000 folders without any real arrangement. These records mostly consist of technical, analytical, historical, operational, and translation reports and related materials. Most of the records date from the period from the 1940s to the 1960s, but there are also documents from the 1920s and 1930s and even earlier. The NSA reviewed the records for declassification before accessioning and most documents and folder titles remain classified. Langbart concluded that the finding aid prepared by NSA was the only practical way to locate documents of interest for researchers, but it is 557 pages long and is classified.

Langbart concluded his report by describing the major Archives II Reference Branch project on finding aids. He elaborated that the project was intended to increase the level of access to the records for both NARA staff and researchers by ensuring that finding aids are up-to-date and available in the research room and online. He estimated that the project would require two years to complete and introduced Cate Brennan as part of the leadership team for the initiative. He finished his planned remarks by noting that he had no reference statistics to offer since the reporting quarter was still incomplete.

Immerman asked Langbart if Bill Mayer’s position had been filled. Langbart responded that the listing had closed two months ago and there were rumors about candidates, but no replacement had been named.

Zeiler requested Langbart to clarify the augmented processing procedures that had been approved for use with the United States Information Agency (USIA) records. Erin Townsend explained that they involved rehousing records and preparing a file unit/box list. She further clarified that basic processing doesn’t always entail the same steps and not all records warrant such treatment.

Belmonte questioned whether NARA still needed binders full of finding aids in the research room. Cate Brennan responded the finding aids project will make finding aid information available online, but the binders were not necessarily going away. She also mentioned that electronic pull slips had been discussed, but no decisions had been made about their use.

Peterson asked for an update on the Orphan Records Project. Langbart explained that during the first year of the effort mostly individual stray documents had been processed. Now the project was focused on clusters of records. In the process of reviewing these clusters of records, important documents filling gaps in the available records had been refiled. Langbart informed the Committee this project is scheduled to be completed in FY 2017.

Peterson then asked whether NARA and the Department had provided guidance to departing officials about their responsibilities to preserve records before they left government service. Lisa Clavelli, from Records Appraisal and Agency Assistance, replied yes for NARA. Tim Kootz from IPS also responded that guidance had been distributed and senior official briefed in the Department.

Randolph thanked Keri Lewis for providing strong IPS support for the Office work program.

Langbart announced that the main research room at NARA II in College Park would be closed for recabling between December 28, 2016 and January 6, 2017. A temporary research room would be established, but its capacity would be limited (50 seats instead of 220). In response to a query from Dudziak, Langbart explained that this planned closure was already reported on the NARA website. Immerman urged the Committee to provide further publicity to the planned closure by means of posts to H-Diplo or social media accounts.

Immerman closed the Research Services portion of the session by thanking Langbart for providing the Committee with read-ahead material, noting that it was tremendously helpful.

Presentation and Discussion on Current Office Research and Annotation

Michael McCoyer discussed his work on the recent compilation, Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XXV, Global Issues; United Nations Issues, outlining the central themes that emerged during his research and his observations regarding key topics in the volume. He then answered several research questions.