On "Request Denied"
To the editor:
I thank Seth Denbo for bringing to the attention of the historical community the recent concerns raised by the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation (HAC). Notwithstanding the article’s valuable substance, I worry that some readers may be misled by the title. “Request Denied: History Faces an Uncertain Future at the State Department” (Perspectives, September 2018) suggests that these concerns remain. In fact, as the final paragraph expresses explicitly, the “crisis” has been resolved satisfactorily. After the Department declined to renew three HAC members to new three-year terms in December 2017, the HAC shared our concerns with the new Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Michelle Giuda, upon her arrival in February 2018.
Not only did Assistant Secretary Giuda work with us to develop the tenure schedules, but the Department also agreed to clarify and formalize the process by which committee members are selected to accord with the law. Consequently, four superb new members began their tenures on September 1, 2018: David Engerman, representing the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Daryl Press, the American Political Science Association, and two at-large members, Julia Irwin and Adriane Lentz-Smith.
But the resolution of the situation concerning the HAC’s composition means that it will fall to the new members to address an ongoing and more fundamental challenge—the prospects for the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series.
Between 2014 and 2016, the Office published 27 volumes, establishing a record for productivity. This sustained high rate of production has been integral to the Historical Office’s (HO) efforts to meet the legally mandated 30-year timeline. A breakdown in the interagency declassification processes, however, has the potential to imperil the FRUS series’ integrity. FRUS publication is seriously threatened by the Department of Defense’s (DoD) inability to provide timely and quality declassification reviews as statutorily required. The series is literally being held hostage to DoD’s violations. This means that HO may be able to publish only four FRUS volumes in 2019 and none in 2020. (The HAC’s full report is available at https://fas.org/sgp/advisory/state/hac2017.html.)
DoD’s declassification leadership has noted that part of the reason for this unresponsiveness is a lack of resources devoted to FRUS review due to a high number of Freedom of Information Act and Mandatory Declassification Review requests. Additionally, the number of documents with DoD equities has increased with the series’ documentation of the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton administrations. DoD lacks a centralized FRUS coordination team as exists in other agencies. An ideal solution would be for DoD to adopt such a model, which would provide dedicated FRUS declassification reviewers and entrust this coordination group with declassification authority.
The Department of State and the HAC are hopeful that a solution to this declassification crisis can be worked out in the following months. DoD declassification officials met with HO leadership in August and provided possible solutions to this problem, but success will depend on DoD providing high-level support and resources. The HAC will monitor this carefully.
Richard H. Immerman, Chair
Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation
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