Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation March 2–3, 2015
- 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
- Margaret Ball
- Forrest Barnum
- Myra Burton
- Tiffany Cabrera
- Seth Center
- Mandy Chalou
- Elizabeth Charles
- Stephanie Eckroth
- Thomas Faith
- David Geyer
- Renée Goings
- Charles Hawley
- Adam Howard
- Aiyaz Husain
- Laura Kolar
- Lindsay Krasnoff
- Aaron Marrs
- Bill McAllister
- Michael McCoyer
- Chris Morrison
- Mircea Munteanu
- David Nickles
- Paul Pitman
- Alex Poster
- Kathleen Rasmussen
- Seth Rotramel
- Avi Rubin
- Daniel Rubin
- Melissa Jane Taylor
- Chris Tudda
- Dean Weatherhead
- Joe Wicentowski
- Alex Wieland
- Louise Woodroofe
- David Zierler
Bureau of Administration
- David Adamson
- Jeff Charlston
- William Fischer
- John Hackett
- Marvin Russell
National Archives and Records Administration
- William Mayer, Executive for Research Services
- David Langbart, Textual Records Division
- Cathleen Brennan, Textual Records Division
- Meghan Ryan Guthorn, Textual Records Division
- Philip Heslip, Textual Records Division
- John Powers, Information Security Oversight Office
- William Burr, National Security Archive
Open Session, March 2
Approval of the Record of the December 2014 Meeting
Chairman Richard Immerman convened the session at 11:05, welcoming the attendees and observing that this marked the first open meeting of the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation meeting held at SA–4D, the new location housing the Office of the Historian. He then moved for the Committee to approve the minutes of the December 2014 meeting, with emendations. Thomas Zeiler seconded the motion, and the Committee adopted the measure. Immerman welcomed Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Douglas Frantz and invited him to take the floor.
Remarks by Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs
Assistant Secretary Frantz remarked on the quality of SA–4D as a workspace and the praised the caliber of work produced by its new occupants. Franz thanked the Committee members, adding that their presence demonstrates their sustaining support for the Office. The Department relies on both the Committee and the interagency for their guidance and support. He further lauded the interagency collaboration that enabled the Office to provide valuable contributions to the Department of State and to the greater historical community. He thanked David Langbart for a tour of the stacks at NARA and for his support of the Office. Frantz concluded by commending the recent digital release of 20 legacy volumes of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series as a democratization of information that represented the Office at its best. He stated that the technological innovations undertaken by the Office were impressive. Franz noted the extent to which he had utilized the series during his 19 months as Assistant Secretary, underscoring that “history is in great hands” with the Office. He concluded by again thanking the Committee for its support.
Immerman thanked Frantz for his remarks and for his ongoing support for the Office. He asserted that the Office’s new space and the recent release of the legacy volumes are symbolic of a larger change, terming it a remarkable transformation. He then asked Stephen Randolph to provide his report.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Randolph added his welcome to those of Immerman and Franz. He again acknowledged the hard work by Deputy Historian Renée Goings and members of the working group who had planned and executed the relocation, taking into account all of the Office’s specifications to enable the historians to perform their work. As Immerman mentioned, Randolph continued, it is a direct result of the Bureau of Public Affairs’ sustained support of the Office.
Shifting to current events in the Office, Randolph announced that the Policy Studies Division, now headed by Chris Morrison, was in the process of hiring a new historian to fill a vacancy in that division. Continuing, Randolph stated that FRUS remained the Office’s primary focus and production of the series had recently reached a healthy state through a combination of hard work and continued process improvement within the Office. The digital release Frantz had mentioned attested to that effort, and to the diligence of several Office members including Joe Wicentowski, Mandy Chalou, Stephanie Eckroth, Tom Faith, and Josh Botts, in completing the project. Randolph noted that this project also highlighted the compilers of these previously released volumes, who history would have forgotten. Randolph additionally described the success of Lindsay Krasnoff’s project commemorating the centenary of World War I, focusing on the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
Randolph reported that in mid-April the Office and its Canadian counterparts would cohost the 2015 International Conference of Editors of Diplomatic Documents. The biennial conference brings document editors from around the world together to strengthen the work of the participant programs and of the community overall by exchanging best practices and discussing relevant professional issues. This year, representatives from 24 nations were scheduled to attend, including editors from the George Washington and Abraham Lincoln papers. Randolph expressed his gratitude to Frantz for his support of the event, and to Goings and Tiffany Cabrera for conquering the various challenges involved in putting the conference together. Randolph stated that anyone could attend the public, working sessions at the conference.
Randolph concluded by praising efforts, led by William McAllister, to develop new curriculum and classroom materials for students of all levels, for a variety of settings. McAllister briefly described the Office’s ongoing effort to provide historical context and instruction to Foreign Service officers early in their career. According to McAllister, over the last 8 and a half years, Department historians have taught roughly one-third of all current Foreign Service officers in face-to-face courses at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), increasing the Office’s visibility and contributing to the development of a more knowledgeable and historically-informed cadre of diplomatic personnel. He noted that other Office historians such as Krasnoff and Myra Burton have taught area studies courses. He mentioned efforts underway to develop future programs to develop critical thinking skills though archival materials and historical insights.
Status Reports by the General Editor
General Editor Adam Howard also lauded the recent digital FRUS release, noting that the format would increase accessibility to the material and allow for more innovative use of the data compared to the paper version. He commented that readers would be able to search across volumes more easily than in the past. The World War II volumes would constitute the next release of legacy volumes. He then reported that the Office had published 10 volumes in 2014 and estimated that the Office would match that pace in 2015. Closing, Howard indicated that another Reagan sub-series volume had been submitted to the Declassification Division.
Presentations on Digitization and Visualization of FRUS Data
Wicentowski, noting that the Office had experienced an exciting and busy first quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2015 with regards to digital initiatives, discussed the process behind the digital release the 20 legacy FRUS volumes from the 1948 to 1951 period. In a live demonstration using the Office website, he explained how he converted the original scanned images into XML documents. His collaboration with the Office’s contract digital editor Virginia Kinniburgh, formerly of the Jefferson Papers at the University of Virginia Press, overcame challenges—such as handling attachments to FRUS documents—and improved the capture and rendering of tables and footnotes to ensure the digitized versions mirrored the hardcopy volumes. In anticipation of these and similar releases, the Office needs to pair its output with outreach. With the faster pace of digitization, the community deserves to know about these releases and other Office materials. Wicentowski thanked the Committee and the leadership of the American Historical Association (AHA) and Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) for drawing attention to the Office’s digital initiatives.
Wicentowski explained that digitizing FRUS enables researchers to employ new tools such as Bookworm, Palladio, and Gephi to develop innovative ways to analyze and visualize data. He noted that in December, Thomas Faith had introduced Palladio to the Committee. Faith, he continued, had found editorial uses for this data. He and Faith had also demonstrated Gephi to the Committee at the last meeting. He demonstrated the utility of these tools by showing different ways one might map changes in foreign policy priorities over time, using the example of the three spellings for the capital of China. These tools allow the Office to track changing policy priorities over time. Wicentowski also outlined the cumulative outreach initiative to advertise this release through a combination of traditional and contemporary media, such as press releases, blogs, and Twitter. He also thanked Ben Schmidt, a historian at Northeastern University, for his assistance regarding these initiatives. Wicentowski said that he still considers the digital visualization project in an incubation stage. The core expertise is in the Office’s data, not necessarily in visualization, but expertise in visualization will increase over time. He concluded by indicating that he would continue to provide updates on digital projects. Laura Belmonte asked if there were plans to link digital analysis to teaching modules. Wicentowski responded affirmatively, noting that essays featured on the website can be linked to this data and also to other internal projects. Mary Dudziak congratulated the Office on its spectacular work and inquired as to whether the visualization projects are currently available to the public and, if they were not, if they could be made available. Wicentowski commented that the demonstration pages are not currently available but that as soon as the Office had the resources, it would make the pages accessible. Dudziak then addressed the question of outreach, asking if the Committee could help advertise these initiatives. She added that it is possible to identify people in various organizations who could help disseminate this information. She also asked if Wicentowski and other Office historians had attended various digital history conferences. Wicentowski explained that the Office has an extensive mailing list and that he and others have often presented at digital history conferences. He and Faith had attended such a conference at Northwestern University last fall, and they looked forward to attending more conferences in the future.
Langbart asked if the electronic data could be manipulated to get away from the subject-oriented structure of the volumes and order the documents chronologically regardless of the volume in which they are published. Doing so would demonstrate that policy makers faced multiple issues at one time. Wicentowski stated that the capability should be available later this year.
Katherine Sibley asked when the next swath of digital volumes would be released, to which Wicentowski responded that he hoped the Office could release these volumes on a quarterly basis.
Immerman wanted to know about funding for these digitization initiatives and whether there are institutional or structural problems going forward, in terms of web storage capacity and other issues. Wicentowski replied that funding is budgeted for this year for additional server cost; the software is free; the servers are fairly inexpensive. Goings added that this reflected the fact that the Bureau has been much more financially supportive than in years past.
Dudziak, referencing Langbart’s comments, added that in terms of thinking about how students use the online FRUS volumes, the Office might consider posting some sort of note on the website that not all of the FRUS volumes have been digitized and are available.
Langbart underscored this point, stating that he wanted to ensure that people who use the printed digital resources of the Office are reminded that there is still a great deal of unpublished material in the archives.
Immerman referenced Matt Connolly’s digital project (now known as historylab) at Columbia University, adding that one of the major issues is preservation. He asked Wicentowski about preservation and sustainability of digital archives, questioning if in 50 years this information would still be accessible. Wicentowski addressed the debates over the answer and current methods for addressing the problem. He stated that the Office’s approach is to make source material available as easily as possible. The Office believes that the proliferation of digital copies multiplies exponentially the number of FRUS volumes in circulation. The printed FRUS volumes are in federal depository libraries. The University of Wisconsin has made volumes available online, as has Hein-Online.
William Mayer interjected that preservation is a deep problem. Many federal institutions are facing this issue. The National Archives is also grappling with digital problems, as well as the problems related to physical space. Langbart commented that the Office needed to work with IPS to ensure that these materials are properly scheduled for retirement. Mayer added that NARA receives records from federal agencies in 60 different formats. Immerman brought the session to a close by stating that he and the Committee members had learned a lot about these particular problems.
Status of Declassification of Department of State Records
Jeff Charlston then reported progress in the Department’s declassification efforts. Charlston stated that the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) was working on the following FRUS volumes: National Security Policy, 1977–1980; Public Diplomacy, 1977–1980; Soviet Union, 1986–1988; and South Asia, 1977–1980. The Soviet Union 1981–1983 volume is next on the horizon.
While electronic record review continued to lag due to resource challenges, reviewers made good headway on paper records. IPS reviewed a total of 3.7 million pages in Calendar Year (CY) 2014. The electronic review for 1989 cables was completed and the review of the 1990 classified cables is underway. Charlston reported that so far the 2015 review numbers were on track, although remodeling of a facility had caused a slight delay.
Since FY 2015, IPS had reviewed 16,000 “high value” Presidential Library pages on the Remote Archives Capture (RAC) system. He reported the National Declassification Center (NDC) backlog was completed and the NDC is now “catching up.” IPS is keeping up with the work flow at the NDC.
Immerman asked a question about the electronic review process, to which Charleston then discussed the search capabilities in terms of electronic review. A human reviewer will also examine the documents.
Mayer indicated that declassification and archival processing of the 1978 cables in the Central Foreign Policy File was completed and are available at NARA through Access to Archival Databases (AAD). He added that NARA is working on trying to release more records on schedule.
He also reported that the NDC would hold a public forum on April 10 at Archives I from 10 a.m. to noon.
The Committee adjourned for lunch at 12:10 p.m.
Closed Session, March 2
Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of Records
Immerman called the meeting back to order at 1:32 p.m. and asked Fischer for his report.
Fischer opened by announcing that IPS had selected Charlston as the new Chief of the Systematic Review Program (SRP). Fischer was very pleased by this development. Because Charleston is already well aware of Office’s concerns and those of the Committee, Fischer anticipated a productive future for IPS’s relationship with the Office.
Turning to the accessioning program status, Fischer reported that since the last Committee meeting IPS transferred 123 boxes of papers, 24 boxes of photographs, 9 boxes of film, 2 boxes of audio, 1 box of maps, and 1.3 terabytes of electronic data, bringing their 2015 total to 230 boxes/linear feet. He thanked both Charlston and NARA for their support throughout the process, adding that all of this would not be possible without Charlston’s work. He anticipated that IPS would make 2 additional quarterly transfers in June. Distributing a spreadsheet detailing the current status of transferred material, Fischer cautioned that transferred items were not immediately accessible at the National Archives but emphasized that IPS did want to make information on the records transfer process more available.
Fischer acknowledged that IPS had encountered a delay in processing the 1980 and 1981 Central Foreign Policy Files because the “P” and “N” reels posed a challenge from the information security standpoint. His office could not transfer the files until they found a resolution. He warned that the 1982 Central Foreign Policy File faced the same hurdles, and that while IPS sent the material out for interagency review, transfer was likely to take another year or two.
Mayer commented that despite the issues Fischer mentioned, IPS maintains a close relationship with NARA and works to keep the pipeline full of permanent records.
Charlston continued the IPS update, reporting that the RAC facilities now had a medium for document digitization, but the project depended on additional force training that had not yet materialized. However, he highlighted the remodel at the paper review branch as the “big story” for the RAC, since it included installing secured communications that would allow the facility to interface with the Office and with other agencies across the government.
Immerman inquired whether the technical issues placed everything else at a standstill. Charlston confirmed that was the case; IPS thought they had resolved the issue until funding for the solution evaporated. He hoped that would be remedied soon. Charlston concluded that he had recently given a talk to a Phi Alpha Theta chapter concerning jobs at the Department of State, adding that he discussed several aspects of the USAJOBS application process.
John Powers of the Information Security and Oversight Office (ISOO) reported that ISOO is preparing for declassification assessments at federal agencies this summer. He cautioned that lean budgets caused further cutbacks in many NARA programs. Noting results from the 2014 declassification assessments, ISOO found agencies were making better referrals and had improved the quality of their initial reviews. He highlighted progress at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where training visits from equity-holding agencies and ISOO have improved their review processes. Turning to the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), Powers reported that the President announced his intent to appoint Solomon Watson and Laura DeBonis as members, leaving only two open positions. One of these vacancies would be filled with a Presidential appointee and the other with a congressional appointee, whereupon Powers invited the Committee to offer their recommendations for appointment.
Powers then discussed the PIDB’s recent report to the President, “Setting Priorities: An Essential Step in Transforming Classification,” that focused on reforming declassification policies and recommending establishing topical declassification priorities. He acknowledged the Committee’s concern over the prospect of topical rather than automatic declassification review. He emphasized that the PIDB priorities constituted a set of recommendations that could be further refined, and openly discussed before priorities were established. He cited a January 20, 2015, blog post by the National Security Archive’s Nate Jones as illustrative of the changing attitudes toward topical declassification. Powers detailed some of the PIDB recommendations including requirements to conduct a line-by-line review of prioritized records—ending simple “pass/fail” reviews, and prioritizing specific records and records series, including line-by-line reviews of Presidential records and records of high-level Executive agency officials.
Powers then referenced the PIDB’s previous report to the President on transforming the national security classification system. One recommendation in that report focused on the need to leverage technology to improve classification and declassification practices, noting the report’s conclusion that applying computational methods could allow policy changes that would both expedite and improve the declassification system. He described a successful pilot project using Reagan administration emails and noted that the George H.W. Bush administration used the same email system. Powers concluded by suggesting that the upcoming “Sunshine Week” offered an opportunity to reflect on specific goals in the President’s Second National Action Plan for Open Government. He noted that this plan included two recommendations from the PIDB’s earlier report but both remain “works in progress” from the PIDB members’ perspective. The Reagan administration email pilot project has proved the possibility of using technology to automate aspects of declassification review. However, those records are not yet publicly available. He also noted that the members felt that agencies have not made measurable progress on declassifying obsolete and no longer sensitive Formerly Restricted Data information of historical interest. He remained hopeful that the Department of Defense would complete several ongoing projects and then post the results on its Open Government website. Finally, he highlighted the PIDB’s “Transforming Classification” blog and suggested that this forum would be a venue for HAC members, historians in HO, and all interested in improving declassification to post comments. Following his presentation, Dudziak asked Powers whether there would be a push for greater openness at the time members of the Obama administration leave office in order to establish a “transparency legacy.” Powers suggested that events like Sunshine Week and avenues such as the PIDB and NDC blogs offered good opportunities for Committee members to advocate for such a move.
Immerman asked for more information about the Reagan administration emails, inquiring if there had been any developments regarding the emails since the December meeting. Powers explained that the project had been designed to demonstrate the feasibility of automating the process of identifying sensitive information and equities and the PIDB members felt it had achieved these goals.. The members hoped that, having demonstrated its effectiveness, the technology could eventually be more widely deployed to assist the review and release process. He added that the same email system existed during the George H.W. Bush administration.
Randolph stated that the Reagan email issue consists of two components: access by the public and access by Office historians for inclusion in FRUS. He inquired whether FRUS compilers could now see the Reagan emails that had been processed under the pilot project, underscoring that the Office had not yet secured access to the emails for possible inclusion in the series. Powers said he would inform the Office of Presidential Libraries of HO’s desire for access. He explained that the pilot project output was still in the process of being digitized for import into the existing RAC system. Howard commented that previous efforts to gain access to the emails for FRUS had encountered challenges. James Wilson emphasized the importance of the email records for FRUS, and noted that Tom Blanton had detailed the White House Professional Office System (PROFs) email program used by the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations in a book published in 1995.
Immerman and Randolph asked about FRD declassification, to which Powers iterated that the PIDB members felt little substantive and visible progress had been made. He explained that PIDB members had recently communicated with senior officials in the Departments of Defense and Energy expressing their concerns.
Zeiler asked how budget cuts had affected ISOO, and Powers responded that ISOO is closely monitoring its resources and has targeted its reviews, rather than the larger, annual assessments of agencies they had performed in previous years.
Randolph, noting Powers’ positive comments about declassification, asked Powers to elaborate on the current trends in document declassification. Powers stated that better declassification decisions, at the agency level, are being made. He explained that despite this development, and the improved decision-making processes on the part of the Department, NARA, and DOD, the percentage of reviewed records that actually became declassified was trending downward.
The meeting adjourned for a short break at 2:10 p.m.
Resumption of Closed Session, March 2
Immerman called the meeting back into session at 2:25 p.m. He then asked Langbart for his report.
Langbart stated that he had six items to share with the Committee. First, he announced that NARA had made several new hires and introduced Cate Brennan, who will be working on foreign affairs records as a reference archivist. With Brennan’s hire, Chris Naylor, director of the Textual Records Division, had established an informal group with archivists from accessioning, processing, and reference to work on foreign affairs records.
Next, he stated that thus far in 2015, NARA had accessioned 37 transfers from Record Groups 59 and 84, consisting of 118 cubic feet, adding that NARA anticipated another 81 transfers from Record Groups 59, 84, and 306 (427 cubic feet) in the pipeline.
Thirdly, Langbart, underscoring that NARA is according attention to processing of foreign affairs records, stated that, during FY 2015, NARA had processed 78 series in Record Groups 43, 59, and 76 (529 cubic feet). These series include documents from the Vietnam Paris peace negotiations, Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), 1960s refugee issues, and certificates of witness to marriages abroad (1925–1987). He remarked that good progress had been made in the prior year releases, thus enabling NARA to focus on this year’s releases. He continued that the 1975 Central Foreign Policy File (CFPF) NODIS telegrams and TS records are a priority.
Fourth, Langbart noted that the processing of the CFPF records continues; NARA just made available the 1978 electronic telegrams and withdrawal cards shortly. Textual Processing, he added, was waiting for the NDC to complete work on the 1977, 1978, and 1979 P-reel printouts. An electronic index is still required to make these documents usable for researchers. Fifth, he mentioned digitization of archives was a priority and said that, hopefully, by the end of the year, the 1906–1910 Numerical File will be online to the public. If this is successful, he commented, NARA hoped that it would be the first of many NARA microfilm publications of Department of State records to be digitized, including records from World War I. Finally, Langbart then responded to a query made several months ago from Trudy Peterson regarding the World Bank. Langbart explained why the document in question was referred to the NDC.
Immerman asked how finding aids for the newly available records would compare to previous guides. Langbart responded that NARA had rolled out the new National Archives Catalog in December, adding that there had been some improvements made to the Catalog since then. The record description goes into the Catalog. At some point, NARA hoped to able to produce the old type of finding aids out of the information in the Catalog. In response to Immerman’s question about chronology, Langbart remarked that, in contrast to foreign affairs records from the 1940s and 1950s, more records from the 1970s and 1980s are often located in in the decentralized files (“Lot Files”) outside the Central Files. Records from this time period are larger and more complex, making it more difficult to create better finding aids, but noting that good finding aids are critical. Noting this complexity, Immerman asked how a researcher would be able to research these types of materials. Langbart suggested that researchers consult NARA’s revamped website on foreign affairs records, which contains a substantial amount of information about how to conduct research at the National Archives, and also contact NARA staff before visiting. Langbart added that the online search system is good at finding files with specific titles in the decentralized file but still does not take researchers to the Central Files. He stated that researchers must consult the Central Files in the course of their research on just about any topic in Department of State records.
Dudziak asked how the online catalog worked and why the Central Files do not come up in search results. Langbart explained that this was because of how the records were described in the system. Archivists responsible for record description perform this task based standards imposed by another NARA unit. Dudziak remarked that the inability of the online finding aid to lead to the central files was a “catastrophe in the works.” In his reply, Langbart observed the situation had existed for many years. Researchers have to rely on Archivists to inform them about the existence of the Central Files. He added that almost all research in Department of State records needs to use the central files.
Dudziak asked if it were possible to add a message to the search function that instructed researchers to look at the Central Files if they queried a topic relevant to foreign affairs, and Langbart said that NARA was working on just such a solution. Dudziak wondered the members of the Committee could speak to the decision-makers behind the online search tool about adding a boilerplate reference to the Central Files, and confirming that the Committee supported this change to the online search.
Immerman interjected that while such a fix might not seem difficult, often such changes are actually quite difficult in practice. He then asked Mayer for his report.
Mayer began by acknowledging that there were many systems at NARA that required modernization. He then addressed three main challenges facing NARA: “funding, focus, and advocacy,” as well as the current actions to resolve them. Regarding the Electronic Records Archive, Mayer explained that NARA was working to adjust off-the-shelf software to meet the Archives’ and researchers’ needs and improve service. Langbart noted that the current catalog system is based on one designed to catalogue books rather than archival records and it had required adjustments after acquisition and does not lead to an optimal situation.
Sibley asked the NARA representatives to elaborate on the nature and limits of the overseas marriage witness records mentioned earlier. Langbart and Mayer responded by explaining the origins of such records, why they were collected, and why they are preserved.
Zeiler asked for more information regarding the search capability of the catalog; such as when the capability might improve and when the identified shortcomings might be remedied and when a message directing researchers to look in the Central Foreign Policy File might be available? Langbart hoped the improvements would be forthcoming within a year.
Mayer added that they have developed an enhancement strategy for the current software and to find out what is not working, and announced two upcoming software upgrade releases: one in March and another in the summer. He emphasized that the system needs to be reconfigured to handle the increasing complexity and quantity of NARA’s records, and commented that the days of researchers consulting with archivists who then retrieved records right off shelves were over. Immerman, commenting that the research experience is not the same as it had been, observed that this situation increased the need for a reliable electronic search system and detailed finding aids, and that he hoped solutions would be forthcoming to mitigate the identified problems.
Mayer then addressed the staffing situation at NARA. He noted that although new staff, for example Brennan, had joined the Archives as the result of a recent hiring action, NARA had encountered new setbacks. Mayer responded to the situation by advocating for 127 new positions, across the NARA system, and attempting to create new positions for employees hired at lower GS grades who were experiencing little upward mobility. He also stressed that NARA looked to improve the staff training process. Even amid these challenges, Mayer stated there were signs of progress: NARA had created 24 new positions and its most recent hiring efforts this spring signified the largest for the past 3–5 years. He encouraged the scholarly community’s feedback via participation in user surveys (e.g., the Committee, SHAFR) to identify shortcomings and to highlight the need for change. He concluded that Jay Bosanko is “driving heavy” on archival operations, including relevancy, electronic records, and archival space.
Regarding the current state of NARA, Mayer then elaborated on these components. While noting that delicate conversations on this subject were continuing, Mayer directed the audience to a graph depicting NARA Staffing vs. Archival Holding over time: the number of records was increasing significantly while staffing remained relatively constant, creating a widening gap between the amount of records stored and the number of staff available to process them. Langbart added that this was despite the creation of three new Presidential Libraries and the administrative structure necessary to administer an independent agency. Mayer went on to address the state of available archive space, which was somewhat dire. The tension between requirements for Federal agencies—directed to get records out the door—and those for NARA—charged with accepting them—contributed to the situation.
Mayer continued his presentation by addressing plausible solutions to the many challenges facing the organization. While increasing digitization provided a possible course of action, he observed that this came with its own challenges and risks. Another option could be retaining only those records determined to be of permanent significance and discarding some original documents, but that would require changes in record retirement schedules which would require extensive negotiation with Federal agencies concerned and legislation.
In light of the SHAFR user survey regarding researchers’ experiences pulling records, and hopes that archival pulls could be done on a rolling basis in the future, Mayer noted that successful implementation of such a policy begins with a fully trained, competent staff. In response to a question from Dudziak regarding NARA user experiences, Mayer again encouraged Committee members and other researchers to provide feedback by emailing the NARA catalog administrators (catalog@NARA.gov); contributing to online blogs; and writing directly to the Archivist of the United States, who is personally interested in hearing what users need.
Immerman observed that this is a dialogue which needed to continue and emphasized the importance of better organization. He asserted that the Committee would continue to discuss these issues.
Mayer agreed but counseled caution. Lasting solutions were needed but ones that were also based upon practical, solvable steps. They needed to focus on “the right way.” He added that ways had to be found to widen this conversation more broadly, allowing things to work better for both archivists and scholars. In this regard, Mayer suggested bringing archivists and scholars together, perhaps for some sort of symposium.
Immerman noted that the Committee had become “exponentially better informed” on the issues facing the National Archives, but noted that their colleagues in the scholarly community were not. How could the Committee inform them of the complexity of NARA’s issues? He observed that the problems presented and the choices available to the Archives are far more complicated than whether to simply digitize records or not. Immerman added that there needed to be an educational component in the dialogue with the scholarly community on these issues.
Following follow-up comments from Mayer and Langbart, Mayer noted that Record Group 59 was the most used Record Group in the Washington area. As an aside, he also noted that maybe NARA could absorb the growing number of professional researchers—whose business model seemed to depend on navigating NARA’s weaknesses—into a NARA “research arm. ” In closing, Mayer commended the work of Federal employees who work at the National Archives and the Department of State. He stressed that these employees are, far and away, the most talented and dedicated people. These organizations need to ensure that the work of these employees is not for naught.
The Committee adjourned at 3:55 p.m. to review selected documents from a forthcoming volume with Office staff.
Closed Session, March 3
Presentation and Discussion of Current Research Projects
Randolph called the meeting to order at 9:10 a.m.
Randolph summarized the status and content of some of the thematically organized, retrospective volumes, and the Office’s aim to fill in some of the documentary gaps with these forthcoming publications. He then turned the floor over to Howard.
Howard gave a brief history of the public diplomacy volume, noting that he and a former Chief of the Europe and Global Issues Division had proposed, in 2006, that the Office compile a history of public and cultural diplomacy, covering 1917–1972. The Office had published the first component of the volume, the World War I compilation edited by Aaron Marrs, in 2014. He then introduced Nathaniel Smith and Chris Tudda to discuss their research on the volume.
Smith described the initial plan for the volume as a team effort, closely coordinated with Marrs and informed by Marrs’s World War I public diplomacy volume. Smith focused his research on the definition, meanings, manifestations, and outcomes of public diplomacy during the 1920s and 1930s. He has assembled a diverse set of documents and other material from a variety of archives including the Library of Congress, the Department of State, and the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, and mentioned several other collections with pertinent material.
Tudda then described the research he undertook on the Eisenhower administration, highlighting several collections he examined at the National Archives. He noted the usefulness of RG 306—the records of the United States Information Agency—in identifying high level documents for inclusion.
The Committee adjourned into Executive Session following the presentations.