Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation September 8-9, 2014
- 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
- Sara Berndt
- Josh Botts
- Myra Burton
- Tiffany Cabrera
- Seth Center
- Mandy Chalou
- Elizabeth Charles
- Stephanie Eckroth
- Thomas Faith
- Amy Garrett
- 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
- Nathaniel Smith
- Melissa Jane Taylor
- Chris Tudda
- Dean Weatherhead
- Joe Wicentowski
- Alex Wieland
- 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
- John Laster, Office of Presidential Libraries
- Beth Fidler, Office of Presidential Libraries
- David Langbart, Textual Records Division
- Rebecca Calcagno, Electronic Records Division
- Meghan Ryan Guthorn, Textual Records Division
- Don McIlwain, National Declassification Center
- John Powers, Information Security Oversight Office
Department of Defense
- Mark Langerman
- Mark Aiken
- Dan Chykirda
- Cameron Morse
- Jill Schwartz
- Patricia Skinner
- William Burr, National Security Archive
Open Session, September 8
Approval of the Record of the June 2014 Meeting
Committee Chair Richard Immerman called the meeting to order at 11:05 a.m. and welcomed Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Valerie Fowler. The Committee approved the minutes of the June 2014 meeting and extended its thanks to Amy Garrett for her years of valuable service in the Office.
Report by the Executive Secretary
Executive Secretary Stephen Randolph welcomed everyone and extended a special welcome to Fowler, whom he termed a “fierce and highly effective proponent” of the Office’s work. He commented on all that has been accomplished since the last meeting and thanked the members of the Navy Hill working group—Renee Goings, Myra Burton, Chris Morrison, Aaron Marrs, and Dean Weatherhead—for their hard work on the transition. Randolph recognized Mandy Chalou’s promotion to Chief of the Editing and Publishing Division and Garrett’s contributions to the Office, noting that Garrett would be taking a position as a deputy office director at the Agency for International Development (AID). Randolph added that the Office would miss Garrett and her wonderful work. He then stated that the Office was in the process of working through a series of hiring actions to fill open positions. Randolph highlighted an “aggressive series” of actions undertaken by the Office in support of the Department of State. He referenced Aiyaz Husain and Ted Mann’s writing of five papers and two supplementary annexes concerning the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP), Lindsay Krasnoff’s work with U.S. Embassy Paris in commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of World War I, and the Office’s contributions to the Ukraine Task Force. Concerning the latter, Randolph stated that he wanted Office historians to come away with detailed knowledge of the policy process. He underscored that while Committee meetings do focus on the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, the Office’s other contributions are much broader in scope
Comments by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Fowler welcomed all of those present on behalf of Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Douglas Frantz, who was on travel, and the Bureau of Public Affairs. She echoed Randolph’s comments regarding the Office’s contributions to the Department, stating that the Department leadership now knows to turn to the Office for background and historical information. She also thanked Garrett for her work, adding that while Garrett is leaving the office, the AID Press Office is a part of the Bureau of Public Affairs. The Department will retain Garrett’s strengths. Fowler closed by stating that she looked forward to hearing Adam Howard’s report on the FRUS series.
Immerman stated that 4 years ago, the Committee felt that the Office was diverting resources to the Policy Studies and Special Projects divisions rather than to FRUS. He asserted that the Committee has been convinced of the utility of the numerous papers and projects undertaken by these divisions. Fowler added that these contributions went well beyond the Department and into the interagency. She commented that she looked forward to the day that the Foreign Relations series will reference “a great memo by HO.”
Status Reports by the General Editor
Howard reported that the Office had 77 FRUS volumes currently in production. Five volumes had been submitted to declassification since the June meeting. Two volumes had been verified. Although no volumes had been published since the June meeting, Howard anticipated that there would be a publishing “surge” by the end of the year. Thomas Zeiler inquired as to when the first Reagan subseries volume would be published; Howard responded that he anticipated a 2015 publication date. Zeiler then asked if the Office planned to publicize widely the Reagan volumes, as these volumes would likely be popular with both scholars and the public. Howard answered affirmatively, indicating that the Office would continue to pursue external partnerships for publicizing volumes, as well as conduct in-reach within the Department. Zeiler stated that the Reagan administration is unique in terms of its popularity with the public. Randolph mentioned that the Office would build on its relationship with the Wilson Center in terms of co-hosting conferences tied to specific volume releases.
A discussion ensued about the public diplomacy retrospective volume, focused on the type of multimedia it will involve (films, for example, and visual images) and how it will be published and released. Howard stated that the volume will be published on the Office’s website in segments. The online format is necessary, given the multimedia component; he added that the World War I compilation would feature two Committee for Public Information (CPI) films. Immerman interjected that the FRUS history project—undertaken by William McAllister, Joshua Botts, Marrs, and Peter Cozzens—had conducted some important “missionary work” with the public and the historical community; he hoped that the Office would pursue the same sort of public program regarding the public diplomacy volume. It is feasible, he continued, to give presentations about the volume at Washington D.C.-area universities and at universities elsewhere in the United States.
Howard then devoted some time to explaining the genesis of the volume. He noted that the volume will document the period from 1917 until 1972. The FRUS series had not documented public or cultural diplomacy with any regularity during those presidential administrations. Beginning with the second Nixon administration, the Office will systematically document public diplomacy, either as part of a larger volume or as a stand-alone one. Initial work had been completed on the retrospective volume in 2007 and 2008 until the volume was put on hold. Over the last year, historians have been researching and compiling the Johnson and Nixon compilations. Howard underscored the challenges posed by the multimedia aspect of the volume. Randolph added that the Office had brought in foreign service officer Charles Hawley on a Y-tour assignment; Hawley’s major task has been to conduct additional research and begin compiling one of the compilations.
Mary Dudziak suggested that the publication of the public diplomacy retrospective volume afforded a good opportunity to think about the Office’s public relations and social media strategies. She suggested that the Office website and news feed could more resemble a blog and could more effectively link material and information. This would afford other bloggers the ability to link back to the Office website. In response to Dudziak’s question about the use of Twitter, Howard stated that the Office tweets the release of Foreign Relations volumes. He added that the Office wanted to develop an app. Dudziak asserted that the content side of things “can be better.” Zieler inquired as to whether the Office sent automatic messages to Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) members when volumes are released, and, if not, suggested creating a direct link between the Office and SHAFR for sharing information, for example, providing a press release on the Office website that SHAFR could cut and paste and use on its website. Dudziak noted that the Office should think more effectively in terms of communicating with the SHAFR leadership. With any content, it does not necessarily mean that it will show up in the SHAFR feed, but, at the very least, SHAFR should be highlighting volume releases. In reference to Immerman’s earlier remarks, Katie Sibley asked if the Office planned to organize a panel or a conference tied to the release of the World War I public diplomacy compilation. Howard anticipated that the public diplomacy retrospective volume would have fewer declassification issues than other Foreign Relations volumes and, therefore, would be able to more quickly through the declassification, editing, and publication process. Randolph agreed that the Office will look more broadly at the communications strategy. David Langbart commented that researchers do not have to wait for the new volume since the records documenting public diplomacy and information policy during World War I and later are available at the National Archives.
Status of Declassification of Department of State Records
Immerman called upon Jeff Charlston of the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) for his report.
Charlston began his report by stating that William Fischer had taken a new position as the Department’s Agency Records Officer. Fischer will continue to serve as acting chief of the Systematic Review Program (SRP) within IPS.
Referring to the handout entitled “Department of State 25-Year Review of the Central Foreign Policy File, 1980-1989,” dated September 8, 2014, Charleston noted that the SRP Electronic Records team was now working on the 1989 cables. IPS hoped to complete this review by the end of the year. He further reported that the SRP Paper Records team was processing the 1986–1990 record block. Since November 2013, the Paper Records team has reviewed 1,245 boxes (2,872,500 pages) of material. In addition, Charlston stated that the SRP team at the Remote Archives Capture (RAC) project has reviewed an estimated 187,929 pages of materials received from the Presidential Libraries. Last but not least, following the elimination of the backlog at the National Declassification Center (NDC), the IPS detachment at the NDC has focused on referrals from the NDC’s Interagency Referral Center. Charlston reinforced that this was all good news.
Immerman asked Charlston about the unclassified telegram category on the handout, adding that the category indicated that the schedule (for completion) was to be determined. Charlston responded that the holdup was related to the availability of reviewers. IPS is using student interns to fill some of these gaps. Charlston then touted the Department’s internship program. Dudziak asked Charlston if these were paid internships; Charlston answered affirmatively and stated that many of the interns, at the conclusion of their internships, accept full-time employment with the Department. John Hackett then provided some additional information about the internship program, explaining that prospective interns can be either enrolled in college or in graduate school. IPS hires a mix of people, including those students with an interest in international affairs. In most cases, the interns will continue to work in IPS for an additional year and then seek positions elsewhere in the Department. Sibley asked Charlston and Hackett if information about the internship program was available on the Department website, to which they responded affirmatively. Immerman asked a follow-on question concerning the geographical location of the interns: did most interns hail from Washington? Charlston responded that it depended. Some interns travel to Washington to work in IPS during the summer months and then return to their universities; others are studying at local universities. He stressed that the Department’s internship program is a fantastic program.
Zeiler asked Charlston if the unclassified and Limited Official Use (LOU) telegrams constituted a “fast review.” Charlston agreed but commented that there are a lot of these documents and that they require review for Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Dudziak asked Charleston in the instance that a reviewer identifies PII in, for example, a telegram. Charleston responded that the documents are flagged and kept with the record block at the National Archives. Dudziak then asked if the interns are permitted to identify PII and make decisions regarding release. Charlston stated that IPS conducts a quality assurance check of these documents before the documents are transferred to NARA. Dudziak asked if this process delayed the release of these records at the National Archives. Don McIlwain explained that it depended on the information. Those records containing Social Security numbers (SSN) would require a couple of days for review. Other information takes longer. Sometimes, he noted, there is information that raises a flag, requiring further review.
Dudziak commented that she appreciated the comments made to clarify the process. However, she continued, from a researcher’s perspective, this is problematic. From her personal perspective, it would be helpful to have continuity in terms of the review of this material while it is still at the Department of State. McIlwain further elaborated that IPS flags these documents so that the NARA archivists will see this information prior to public release. Langbart added that with the electronic telegrams, the telegrams are pulled out and put into a separate bucket. The type of information identified by the interns included SSN’s, personal addresses, and medical conditions. The process, he stated, is very straightforward. Experience teaches one to spot and identify this information quickly. Immerman, recalling that Langbart had raised the difficulty of re-integrating flagged electronic records at previous meetings, expressed some concern about this existence of a separate bucket. Langbart responded that NARA and the NDC are working on how to make these records available to the public. Charlston added that two former interns were currently working in his branch and that they have been able to expand their skill set through their work.
The conversation shifted to a general discussion. William Burr commented that the Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) has historical files dating back to the 1960s and asked about the feasibility of IPS dividing up these records into chronological tranches for declassification. Langbart responded that the records actually dated back to the 1940s. Given their arrangement, it would require reviewers to go through every folder in order to logically and properly split the records as the possibility existed that records from the 1940s could be filed in a folder including documents from the 1990s. He noted that the Executive Order on declassification now prohibits agencies from creating integral file blocks that cover more than 10 years, which meant that this problem should not recur in the future. Immerman rued that the damage had already been done. Charlston stated that Fischer was aware of this problem.
The discussion turned to the FRUS volume on Iran, 1951–1954. Randolph stated that the Department had decided to delay publication because of ongoing negotiations with Iran. Immerman expressed frustration that the Department had decided to delay publication of the Iran volume.
Prior to recessing for lunch, Immerman welcomed Bill Mayer to the meeting. Mayer thanked him and responded that he enjoyed attending Committee meetings as he viewed them as a learning opportunity.
The Historical Advisory Committee then recessed for lunch at 11:55 a.m.
Closed Session, September 8
Issues Relating to the Declassification and Opening of Records at the National Archives
Immerman welcomed the attendees to the closed session and called the session to order at 1:35 p.m.
Immerman invited McIlwain to give his report. McIlwain opened his report with an update on the status of the ‘rollover’ records at the NDC, specifically those records submitted during the 2010–2013 period.
He reported that 25 percent of records currently in the pipeline are Department of State records (approximately 7.5 million pages), the majority of which are from Record Group (RG) 84 (Post Files) and Lot Files. McIlwain added that the Department of State reviewers are extremely busy. Immerman interjected that it still proved challenging to understand this process, and asked for further clarification. McIlwain explained that the review consists of a quality review, exchange with Department of Energy (DOE) regarding its equities, and indexing. The laborious part of the process, he continued, remained the separation of classified records from unclassified. McIlwain directed the attention of the Committee to the NDC blog. The blog contains lists of records that have completed the process. The NDC blog also contains lists of record series ready for final indexing. He reiterated that the Committee should review the information on the blog, and he solicited comments on files that should be prioritized for processing.
McIlwain then discussed the current work of the Inter-Agency Referral Center, noting that it has processed approximately 600,000 pages of Department of State records, resulting in a release rate of 92 percent, the highest record release rate of all agencies. Immerman asked McIlwain a question concerning the release rate of the 7.5 million pages referenced earlier. McIlwain responded that there was a release rate across all agencies of approximately 60-70 percent, adding that agencies tend to be conservative. He added that results were seen in the Referral Center and explained the process whereby agencies are able to review documents with their equities at the Center. Agencies were able to review documents on a document-by-document basis at the Referral Center. After an agency was notified by the Referral Center that documents with their equity had been referred to the Center, the agency then had a period of 1 year to review the documents. McIlwain stated that he would keep the Committee updated and hoped to give a better update at the December meeting. He stated that he would have the fiscal year numbers available.
Immerman asked Langbart for his report. Langbart first introduced two of his colleagues: Rebecca Calcagno and Meghan Ryan Guthorn. Calcagno, he explained, works in the Electronic Records Division and will be directly involved in accessioning the Department’s electronic records, while Ryan Guthorn is a member of the Textual Records Division Accessioning Team, where she has responsibility for Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies. Langbart began his remarks by noting that, at the June meeting, the Committee had asked for a report on the issues faced by the Electronic Records Division that lead to delays in making the electronic records from the Central Foreign Policy File (CFPF) available to the public. He discussed the specific technical difficulties with the Access to Archival Databases (AAD) system. During the fall of 2012, NARA identified a technical problem with AAD that prevented documents from becoming available. As a result, when NARA completed the review of withdrawal cards for the 1977 telegrams at the beginning of 2013, it could not make the records available at that time. He noted that these problems were fixed in January 2014, and the 1977 telegrams were made available on the system at the end of that month. The 1977 P-Reel index went up in June 2014. In July 2014, Langbart continued, the 1973 P-Reel index was released. In the process of this, NARA realized that some of the 1973 documents were missed due to technical problems.
Langbart addressed the problems relating to the review of records for public access. NARA must review the records for PII before the records are made available. The process is complicated and requires multiple reviews by both NARA and the Department of State. NARA did find some PII missed in previous reviews and undertook another review of electronic telegrams using automated tools. NARA staff then manually reviewed the results and redacted information as appropriate. Following the review, NARA posted revised versions of the 1973-1977 telegrams and withdrawal cards. He noted that these telegrams and withdrawal cards had been reviewed using a new electronic “PII sniffer” mechanism. NARA hoped that the “PII sniffer” will help greatly reduce the amount of time spent manually reviewing the records.
Thirdly, Langbart addressed the transfer and processing of records. At the end of 2012, the Department of State sent NARA the remaining 1970s era electronic records. While processing the 1978 records, NARA identified an issue with the agreed upon criteria for separating the records into appropriate buckets. During a 9-month period, NARA and the Department of State collaborated in order to identify improved criteria for filtering these records. The Department subsequently provided NARA with replacement copies of the 1978 telegrams and P-Reel index, the 1979 telegrams, and the replacement index for the 1976 P-Reels. This summer, NARA resumed processing these records. Langbart noted that the Electronic Records Division has separated the tasks of processing and providing access to Department of State records: one staff member is available for records processing and another will work to make the records available online. As a result, processing and preparing for access can occur concurrently, and, potentially, lessen the time needed in making the records available. Langbart estimated that NARA would complete processing of the 1978 and 1979 telegrams and P-Reel index over the course of the next year. He hoped that the 1978 telegrams and P-Reel index would be made available during the summer of 2015, with 1979 records completed thereafter. Concluding his remarks, Langbart stated that since the June meeting NARA had accessioned 5,500 cubic feet (cf) of paper records, including 230 feet of Department of State records. Transfer of another 470 feet of State and United States Information Agency (USIA) records was in progress.
Immerman asked Langbart to elaborate further on the capabilities of the “PII sniffer” tool. Immerman specifically wanted Langbart’s evaluation of whether or not the tool was sufficient to increase the rate of review in the future. Langbart referred this question to Calcagno who, in turn, stated that she thought the tool was sufficient to increase efficiency and accuracy, but that NARA would continue to perform manual reviews. Immerman asked if the NARA staff had confidence in the tool. Langbart responded that this was not the first time NARA had used technology in records processing, yet added that technology could not be considered foolproof. He noted that NARA operates under a mandate from the General Counsel in terms of the type of information that needs to be flagged, adding that some type of manual review will still need to be performed to prevent the release of PII.
Dudziak asked Langbart to explain how the tool worked, specifically the type of information it looked for in the documents. Calcagno explained that the tool would identify date of birth (DOB), telephone numbers, and addresses. Langbart asserted that an archivist would still need to review the results for false positives flagged by the tool and for quality control purposes, i.e., to see whether tool was indeed working properly. He offered to take questions from the Committee and provide answers at the December meeting.
Immerman concluded that this process will be played out over time. He wondered if the tool constitutes the best technology available as he believed something needed to happen to accelerate the review process. It seems clear, he added, that if these types of reviews are not mechanized, then NARA and the Department will play “catch-up” forever. Langbart cautioned that the automated tools were useful only for reviewing with automated records. The vast majority of government records are still in paper form. The quality of searches was important for driving the records review process. Discussion followed on the high NARA threshold for preventing PII release. Fischer added that the Department of State and NARA have different thresholds.
Dudziak suggested that the topic is a policy question that the Committee would need to address. She mentioned that Privacy Act does not seem to have an error component, thus an error rate is not much of an argument from the perspective of a person whose privacy interests are at stake. She wondered if there was a need for a regulatory fix at the agency level that could be applied or if the Privacy Act might need to be revised to make error tolerable. She added that that there is a logic behind NARA’s policy of “zero tolerance” since citizens have an expectation that certain PII, like a social security number, are absolutely protected.
Langbart replied that the problem continues to increase, adding that whether technological or human, there are no 100 percent perfect solutions to detect all PII. For example, SSNs show up in very odd places, places where neither humans nor software would look for such information.
McIlwain commented that PII encompasses information not limited to SSNs. An additional challenge is that statutory guidance is not always clear: how old is old enough where something is no longer considered PII?
Dudziak commented that these questions can be built into the broader Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reform effort.
Immerman stated that the Committee will remain interested in this issue. If the policy continues to be based on zero tolerance, documentation will never be released. He stressed the concept of risk management, because logically, a policy of zero tolerance translates into documentation never getting released. So a solution must blend zero tolerance with the reality of releasing documents in a reasonable and timely way. He believed that technologies can be developed to identify this information. On a related issue, Immerman reported that, with regards to FOIA, the Committee “lost our seat at the table.” Lee White, a representative to the FOIA Advisory Board was asked to step off the board because as an historian, his profession caused a conflict of interest. Immerman continued, that the Committee needs representation on this body because it could address this problem of adhering to zero tolerance by providing more reasonable policy guidance.
Sibley, addressing Langbart, noted that he had, at one point, said that perfect was the enemy of the good. Robert McMahon asked if this was the same with Kyl-Lott reviews, because, under Kyl-Lott, one would not want to make a mistake.
David Geyer commented that this is a legal interpretation of policy. He stated that getting the law changed and interpretation are two different things. Dudziak added that, while not embracing NARA’s position, privacy is an important value, and, from a legal perspective, one can understand their zero tolerance approach.
Geyer replied the reality is that there will always be error, human or technological, so it is not as if the policy of zero tolerance actually translates to a perfect record of preventing every instance of the release of PII.
Dudziak remarked that if you are using a tool that will err 1 percent of the time, you are making a decision to release 1 percent of information that is protected under the Privacy Act. She stressed that this is an important policy issue and added that it is possible to have statutory or regulatory modification to balance both transparency and privacy.
Immerman asked Fischer for his report. Fischer commented that he had brief remarks, echoing Charlston’s earlier comment that he is the Department’s new agency Records Officer, while continuing to serve as acting head of SRP. He asserted that he sees a valuable role in staying involved with the Committee and the Office due to his personal interest in liaising among the Committee, the Office, and IPS. He asserted that he would maintain the collaborative, close working relationships with NARA and expressed his desire to have a coordinated IPS approach. Currently, IPS is involved in transferring paper records (“direct offers”) to the National Archives. The last tranche from the last quarter constituted only 75 cubic feet, owing to the nature of the records. Fischer noted that these were valuable segments of Department lot files that had not been transferred. He noted this process remained a priority for IPS and the Obama administration.
Immerman asked what happens to Department of State records once the Department transfers them to NARA. Langbart responded that once the records arrive at Archives II, they are shelved, assigned a preliminary number in the Master Location Register (MLR), and routed to the NDC. Once the NDC completes its review, only then can textual processing begin. McIlwain stated that the records Fischer had mentioned are on schedule to complete NDC review sometime next year, whereupon the records would go into textual processing. Langbart noted that public availability of these records would depend on the availability of archivists to conduct the work necessary to release the records.
Immerman proposed a hypothetical situation: if a researcher wanted to see a particular archival collection, given this timetable, could he or she learn about the documents in the “pipeline” so that they could anticipate when a particular set of documents would be available to researchers? Immerman recalled that Jay Bosanko, at a previous meeting, had said something to this effect that a researcher could request the status. He inquired if researchers knew which records were currently undergoing review at the NDC.
Langbart explained that when records are accessioned at the National Archives, processing archivists initially perform a limited description of the records. If classified, the records then sit on the shelf until the NDC completes its review. Only after the declassification review is completed do the records undergo final archival processing and description and finding aids created. In the case of Department of State Lot Files, during processing multiple Lot Files might be combined into a larger series or one Lot File might be broken into multiple series. Langbart gave a recent example of the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs files for which a number of Lots will be combined into a single series. The important thing, he stressed, is that final processing and description can take place long after records are transferred to the National Archives making access difficult. Immerman responded that it is important for everyone to understand how this process works. The Committee, he continued, saw a gap between headline announcements that a given backlog has been worked through and “false” expectations that researchers can access these materials in short order.
Charlston, in beginning his remarks, addressed some of the onsite improvements at Newington. In addition, IPS is improving its workflow with the development of additional electronic tools. These tools will enable IPS to view the entire review history (on the Department of State side) of records. Charlston noted that every time a reviewer places a tab around a document, IPS must account for this action. In the past, IPS reviewers manually inputted this information. Employing the new tools will automate the process and allow IPS to track materials down to the box level, including referrals. The whole process will be much more efficient and will more than make up for the anticipated slowdown during this transition. Immerman replied that the Committee would look forward to Charlston’s report at the December meeting.
Immerman then asked John Powers for his report. Powers began his remarks by commenting that it appeared all issues concerning the Office’s access to Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) records were resolved, adding that he would be happy to revisit the issue if necessary. He commented that the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) had released its annual report in June. Although ISOO did not specifically examine the status of Department of State's 25-year automatic declassification review program during the previous fiscal year, ISOO oversight of these programs across Government continue to improve. Importantly, ISOO found fewer errors in declassification review decisions, including decisions to not refer records for review to other agencies. Fewer referrals, he stressed, is a good thing in that it will quicken the pace of processing at the National Declassification Center (NDC) when those records are prioritized for public release. Powers added that there is one remaining challenge - ISOO still needs to develop a process and metric to evaluate the work of the NDC itself.
Turning to specific aspects of the report, Powers stated that $11.63 billion was spent on overall classification in the government, of which $100 million was spent on declassification. These figures include expenditures by the Intelligence Community for the first time. But more sobering statistics relate to mandatory declassification review (MDR). Recent trends show that MDR requests are increasing each year by approximately 20 percent, as are the backlogs. Its popularity is driven by its success: last fiscal year, of 11.1 million pages reviewed for declassification, fewer than 200,000 were withheld in full or in part. Building of an earlier presentation by the Department of Defense (DOD), Powers commented that the DOD MDR continues to increase significantly.
Turning to the work of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), Powers spoke about their public meeting in June. This meeting focused on an earlier PIDB recommendation to the President on reforming the process for reviewing historical and no longer sensitive Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) for declassification. The recommendation was included in the President's Second National Action Plan for Open Government (NAP). Representatives from DOD, the Department, and the Department of Energy discussed their work on this NAP goal. Powers thanked Hackett for his briefing, indicating that he provided an excellent presentation on the Department’s efforts to support the declassification process.
Powers commented that the PIDB would also continue to focus on one of their other recommendations that was also included in the NAP. Specifically, this recommendation focused on the need to use technology to make declassification review more effective and efficient. The PIDB planned a trip to visit the Center for Content Understanding at the University of Texas at Austin to examine a joint project by NARA and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) effort to identify equities in Reagan administration emails.
Lastly, Powers referenced the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) and ISOO’s support of it. He described ISCAP’s four functions: deciding on appeals by authorized persons filing declassification challenges; approving, denying, or amending agency exemptions from automatic declassification; deciding on mandatory declassification review appeals by parties whose requests for declassification have been denied at the agency level; and informing senior agency officials and the public of final Panel decisions on appeals. Powers encouraged the Committee to view the ISCAP page, located on NARA’s website.
Status Report on FRUS Declassification Issues: Issues and Collaboration with the Department of Defense
After opening remarks, Mark Langerman declared that DOD was a proud partner in the FRUS program. His staff continued to work closely with The Historian, General Editor, and other Office staff. He has established great lines of communication with Howard and Carl Ashley. His office has achieved some great victories of late, including new staff, better facilities and revised work processes to increase speed and efficiency. All this has been accomplished, in part due to the advocacy of The Historian and the historians’ efforts in shaping a dialogue at DOD concerning the Foreign Relations series. Langerman noted his two recent hires and listed the members of his team: Patricia Skinner, Dan Chykirda, Mark Aiken, Cameron Morse, and Jill Schwartz. All have declassification and history backgrounds. He noted that hiring is a delicate process because the DOD structure is under review up to the Assistant Secretary level, which started in calendar year (CY) 2014. Reorganizations have hampered some of his efforts, but his team continued to “plow through.” Langerman noted that his staff had continued to review the DOD declassification program and process with an eye toward improving timeliness. He referenced some other problems faced by the staff, notably the June-September 2013 furlough and the October 2013 government shutdown. All of these events impacted the timeline. Langerman stated that his reviewers are also working prepublication and security review cases in addition to their FRUS reviews. Often, he continued, he will pull his staff off other jobs to move the FRUS reviews through the process. Langerman stated that his office had always attempted to service their FRUS customers as well as possible, but previously any additional allocation of resources to FRUS would, by necessity, be taken from other mandatory reviews. Langerman believed he now had the resources to significantly improve both the timeliness and quality of their FRUS reviews. However, he hoped that the Committee’s annual report would stress the positive elements of the DOD review process, while also suggesting that congressional support and funding for the DOD FRUS program would be helpful. In closing, Langerman asserted that DOD is pleased to work with a great team at the Department of State, a relationship characterized by cordiality and professionalism.
Immerman thanked Langerman for his report and acknowledged the DOD’s efforts. He noted Langerman’s focus on his team members and their enjoyment of their work. Immerman stated that the Committee feels the same way about its role. He then asked about the deployment of new staff and how they were helping expedite FRUS coordination. Langerman replied that they were leaning heavily on the talents of their new staff, especially in declassification and area studies. Immerman asked about institutionalizing or regularizing the review process at the deputy assistant secretary level. He added that he is trying to understand the process as it appears diffuse. Langerman responded that sometimes the country desks can pose problems, noting that there isn’t a normal dialogue. Immerman asked Langerman if he was confident that there was sufficient understanding that there is a Foreign Relations statute and that DOD has to be aware of the mandate. He asked if Langerman’s staff would be engaging with others in DOD who might not understand DOD’s obligations under the statute. Langerman agreed that some in DOD did not fully understand their FRUS statutory duty. He stated that he is in the process of setting up some briefings with ISOO for ISOO to brief DOD staff. Langerman commented that everyone must consider the transitions in and out of particular positions within DOD. It will never be a perfect world. Their office was trying to emphasize to their colleagues that FRUS review was a requirement and to be more cognizant of deadlines.
Sibley asked about the long-standing declassification issues of a particular volume. Langerman replied that the documents in question were being pushed forward and at present being reviewed at the “right place.” Immerman asked if Langerman’s staff was positioned in such a way that delays would be a relic of the past. Langerman asserted that his staff would support FRUS “in any way we can.” He said that having Chykirda and Schwartz on staff will help. He underscored that his staff is cognizant of time constraints and added that he is in continual conversation with Ashley over these issues.
Randolph thanked Langerman and his staff for their efforts, given all of the constraints they faced. He also extended his congratulations to the new members of the staff. He thanked Langerman for the sustained, collaborative effort and for Langerman’s extraordinary management. If Langerman identified ways in which the Office could be helpful, Randolph commented, he hoped that Langerman would let him know. Randolph hoped that he and others in the Office could meet with Chykirda and Schwartz and talk with them to ensure that all communications are complete. Lastly, he said he was pleased that he could be helpful to Langerman and his staff in their attempts to leverage more resources, given that DOD is an important pivot point in meeting the Office’s mandate.
Howard asked Langerman if he had identified someone on his staff who would engage on the policy side. Langerman responded that he was trying to get a “go-to” person; this person is in place, he added, but he has not utilized him full-time.
Dudziak, addressing Langerman, noted that he had raised the issue of resources. She added that she wanted to understand more about the resource allocation and asked him what the absence of additional funds was preventing DOD from doing. Langerman acknowledged that his staff has to perform a variety of responsibilities, which are all within their purview. He stated that he has had to take his FTEs and redirect them to FRUS review. Dudziak asked if the Committee could recommend that DOD hire more staff to work FRUS reviews. Langerman responded that there are no dedicated full time employees (FTE) working on FRUS, as a result, FRUS reviews unavoidably diverted resources from other prepublication and security review tasks. Skinner stressed that resources are not within their control. After they added Chykirda to the staff, 48 hours later, the hiring freeze for the new organization within DOD took effect. She commented that these are the types of situations impacting their staff that they did not see coming. Dudziak expressed appreciation for this clarification, and asserted that she hoped that the Committee would support Langerman’s staff on this issue going forward. Immerman interjected that the Committee does and would continue to do so in the future.
Immerman then inquired about whether the new organizational structure within DOD (Defense Office for Prepublication and Security Review) would be an asset or if it would not make much of a difference. McAllister mentioned the centralized form of review used by IPS and CIA, and asked how the process worked in DOD. Langerman said that in their case centralization was a detriment. McCoyer asked about the DOD reviewers. Skinner stated that the turnover of review personnel was intense. In addition, usually more than one office at DOD had to sign off on a referral. Morse added that Joint Staff (JCS) review officers had a 2 to 3 year rotation. The first 6 months they were typically overzealous, at the end they were much better but also on their way “out the door.” Skinner noted that they could overrule original review decisions, and had done so before, but not simply for being late. Langerman pointed out that the talk within DOD of a possible dedicated FRUS FTE showed the emphasis and importance in which they regarded the series.
Immerman thanked Langerman and expressed his hope that this conversation could be the first of a number of visits. He suggested that it would be possible to insert an item in the Committee’s report that it would be helpful to have a dedicated FRUS FTE at DOD. Immerman then closed the session.
Efforts to Meet the 30-Year Publication Line: Report on Research and Annotation for Reagan Administration Volumes
After an introduction by Howard, Avi Rubin discussed his recently-completed volume with the Committee, noting the scope and organization of his volume, the type of research conducted and the importance of various sources, the challenges he faced in research, and the issues he expects to face in the declassification of the volume.
The meeting then adjourned for the day.
Closed Session, September 9
Efforts to Meet the 30-Year Publication Line: Report on Research and Annotation for Reagan Administration Volumes
Immerman called the meeting to order at 9 a.m.
Following an introduction by Howard, Botts discussed his current research with the Committee, noting the evolution of his thinking about the volume’s structure, the key themes of his research, the status of his research, and his plan for completing the volume. He also reflected on the central questions that will guide his remaining research and document selection.
The committee then went into Executive Session.