by Jeremy Young | 12/13/2008 11:31:00 PM
KC Johnson brings us a stunning story about the Foreign Relations of the United States series, published by the State Department's Office of the Historian (original link here). The FRUS series has been in crisis for years, with the production schedule severely behind the federally-mandated pace. Historical Advisory Committee chairman William Roger Louis, a professor of history at UT-Austin and past president of the AHA, charged State Department Historian Marc Susser with gross mismanagement of the series and called for his firing by the State Department. To underscore his protest, Louis resigned from the committee. Assistant Secretary of State Sean McCormack's response was to walk out of the meeting. Anyone who's met Roger Louis knows it takes a special combination of brass balls and idiocy to walk out on him, particularly when he's the chairman of the board tasked with overseeing the project on which he's commenting. Way to go, State Department. Hopefully Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will have better ways of handling the problem that don't put the blame on Louis. Also, don't miss Maarja Krusten's comments on the matter. I disagree with Krusten, a blogfriend and seventeen-year veteran of the National Archives' Nixon Collection, regarding the need for airing this dispute in public. Krusten's experience is with controversies arising from the declassification process, which of necessity requires a certain amount of secrecy. In this case, since no declassification is involved and the taxpayers are footing the bill, the public has a right to know that its tax dollars are being mismanaged.

Reader Bill in Wisconsin sends a link to the Dakota 38 Reconciliation Ride, an epic journey on horseback being undertaken by Lakota Spiritual Leader Jim Miller to create awareness and healing for the 1862 Mankato Massacre of Native Americans by federal troops. You can follow alon with the ride at the Dakota 38 Blog, or submit content of your own.

At Daily Kos, diarist BigAlinWashSt tells the story of his great-grandfather, a member of the International Workers of the World movement.

Blogfriend Rebecca Goetz raises an excellent point: what would our dissertations look like if danced? Mine would probably resemble a quadrille.

At European Tribune, blogger DoDo presents the history of Italian high-speed rail, complete with pictures. Good stuff.

I've just completed somewhat of an overhaul of the blogroll, since some sites on there are now defunct or no longer updated regularly, and since I've been meaning to add some new sites. I've also added some new links to the Appendices (formerly Resources) box below the Blogroll. I still haven't figured out exactly what to do with this box or how to organize it -- but I've been saying that now for over two years, so I'm pretty resigned at this point to the fact that it's just going to be a catch-all box for things I can't put elsewhere.

What's on your mind?

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35 Comments:


Blogger Ross on 12/14/2008 12:32 PM:

Got two new books this week:

The Wisdom of Crowds and Direct Democracy in Switzerland

Started reading the Wisdom of Crowds and it isn't great. I'm waiting for Howard Zinn's A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.

 

Blogger Jeremy Young on 12/14/2008 3:24 PM:

The Wisdom of Crowds is an entry in an interesting public debate about "the masses" that's been raging since at least the late 1800's. It's one of the things I'm discussing in my dissertation (the debate, not the book).

FYI to all readers: obviously my last paragraph in this post was incorrect, as I've (finally!) figured out a way to categorize things in the "Appendices" box that makes some sense.

 

Anonymous Maarja on 12/14/2008 7:01 PM:

Hi, Jeremy,

Very kind of you to call me a blogfriend! I'm honored, truly.

Here's what I meant when, among other things, I wrote under K C Johnson's posting on the FRUS matter that "However, these things make me a little uneasy. Having been involved in internal disputes over Nixon's records myself, I know that airing out disputes in public can be a tricky way of resolving issues." I meant that it's hard to get all the details of a story when some players are outside and some are inside. The ones outside may have much greater freedom of speech. It's hard to tell whether some people on the inside are rooting for them, but feel unable to speak up, or whether those outside have little or no support.

Keep in mind, I was subpoenaed as a witness by Professor Stanley Kutler, who filed a lawsuit for access to Nixon's tapes. At the time, it had been two years since I left the National Archives' employ. After I testified in Stanley Kutler's lawsuit over the Nixon tapes in 1992, it took a couple of years before I started mingling publicly with all of my friends and former colleagues at the National Archives' Nixon Project at Archives' functions. (However, there were people at the Archives with whom I stayed in touch all along.) But all along, no matter how awkward it felt, I was mindful -- very, very much so -- of the need to protect my former colleagues, to not get them in trouble with management.

Why was it awkward for a while? Well, perhaps because my testimony in the Kutler case had presented a differing perspective than that which the Department of Justice had presented "on behalf of" the National Archives in court in 1992. (The Archives cannot hire private representation in lawsuits, it must rely on DOJ.) As a former employee, I wasn't subject to agency message discipline although as a fed, DOJ "represented" me when I testified in Kutler's lawsuit. (Seymour Hersh wrote about the case in the New Yorker in December 1992. He included some of my sworn testimony).

It was difficult to air out issues under those circumstances. The question of punishment actually came up at the end of my testimony. Consider this passage from the transcript of my testimony.

"KUTLER’S ATTORNEY: "Do you have any concerns that any adverse actions
could be taken against you or someone else because of the testimony you
are giving in this deposition?"

DOJ ATTORNEY: "Objection. Compound."

KRUSTEN: "No. It’s my feeling that I and everyone who worked on the
materials tried their very best to adhere to the regulations. When we
felt that we were being asked to do something unethical, we protested
to the extent that subordinate employees may do so without suffering
punishment.

I think we were within our rights to warn supervisors that they were on
a path that might not stand up to close scrutiny.

Certainly, I think it would have been in the Archives’s interest and
Mr. Nixon’s interest to have the [Record Group] 460 [Watergate Special
Prosecution Force tapes] opening handled in a manner other than it was,
and I think I did everything I could to warn people that this should be
done.

I know of no reason to punish people for attempting to warn an agency
to conform to its regulations. And, in fact, to attempt to do so might
be construed as an admission of guilt.” [Krusten deposition, Civ. A.
92-62-NHJ, September 1992, 154.]

Obviously, that's a tricky situation, more so than the one involving FRUS. It left a lasting impression on me. Airing out internal agency disputes during sworn depositions -- with Nixon's lawyer across the table from me, Kutler's on the other side, and a DOJ lawyer sitting next to me -- was difficult, even harrowing. I'd do it again if I have to but I very much wish there could have been a better way of resolving some of the issues back then.

So, what was going on in the agency with my friends and former colleagues after I testified? To this day, I don't know all the details. I only had fragmentary information. I sensed that some friends were skittish and seemed worried for a while. When they're your good, longtime friends, you just hate to see them in such situations.

Sometimes in such cases, especially when there is an ongoing lawsuit as with Kutler's case, agency lawyers or managers might send around messages telling employees they are not to speak publicly, that only the public affairs office or General Counsel will do so. In worst case scenarios, those on the outside are labelled "disgruntled employees." It can get quite messy.

So, while I see the need to air out some issues, I recognize that there can be an imbalance between what those on the inside can say and what those on the outside can say. I hope that clarifies my post on HNN.

I also hope you had a chance to look on Google books at the Cox/Wallace entry I mentioned ON HNN, the one on past problems with FRUS.

Best,

Maarja

 

Blogger Jeremy Young on 12/18/2008 11:06 PM:

Maarja, sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you -- I've been pretty busy on this end. Anyhow, thanks for your informative comment, and also for the reading suggestion, which I've likewise not had a chance to get to yet.

I don't dispute at all the bad nature of the situation you were put in by Kutler's lawsuit. However, I would argue that Roger Louis' charges against the Historian are fundamentally different for two reasons. First of all, Kutler's lawsuit involved the declassification process, while Louis' personnel-based charges don't involve classified documents, at least not directly. It was impossible to demand complete sunshine from the Nixon archivists, but regarding FRUS personnel matters I don't see the same restrictions. Second, and more importantly, you were essentially a low-level employee compared to the people actually involved in the suit (by hierarchy, not by training, of course). You couldn't provide full disclosure because your bosses and the Justice Department, all of whom outranked you, were giving you varying advice on the matter -- which put you in a difficult position. By making the allegations against the people at the top of the hierarchy -- the Historian and Sean McCormack -- Louis has bypassed that problem. I'd be willing to wager that no one higher ranking than McCormack (which would only be Secretary Rice, the President and Vice President) is telling Sean McCormack he can't talk about personnel decisions. That's all coming from him.

As such, I see no reason for Louis not to call Susser and McCormack on the carpet for the abject failure of FRUS. It's our tax dollars that are being wasted, and bravo for Louis for trying to get some answers as to why.

 

Anonymous Maarja on 12/21/2008 7:47 AM:

Hi,Jeremy, no problem on the delayed response. I know you are tremendously busy! Just a couple of clarifications.

The problems with the Kutler lawsuit did not arise from rank or from hierarchical subordination. My colleagues and I were mid-level employees. Only one of the witnesses was a Senior Executive. I no longer was a NARA employee when I testified in the Kutler case. So I had no contact with or guidance from any NARA managers regarding it. I took no direction from anyone, except, as the transcript shows, when the Department of Justice claimed privilege over materials. That would affect any witness, even an agency head. Even if you yourself wrote a document, you can't testify about its contents if DOJ has withheld it from the plaintiff as privileged. Fortunately, that only came up a few times during my testimony.

Other than that, I was entirely free to testify as candidly as I wished. And did. In fact, someone who read my testimony later said I had been a "killer witness." The problem for me was, how do you go back and mingle with your friends, when, to some extent, you've opened up about issues and revealed matters in testimony which the agency might have preferred remained shuttered.

So my point really is, how can anyone really know what the present employees of the State Department's History Office think about management of the FRUS matter and the H.O.? We don't know and may never know, until they choose to leave their jobs. My testimony showed that I left NARA's employ because of my discomfort with the direction in which NARA was heading in dealing with Nixon and the tapes. Having made the choice to leave, I gained freedom of speech. But that's a hard way to gain the ability to speak up. I prefer that agencies work to resolve internal conflicts without people having to feel leaving is one of the few options open to them.

All the best in the holiday season,

Maarja

 

Anonymous Maarja on 12/21/2008 12:51 PM:

Jeremy, it occurs to me that there may be a missing link in my accounts. (I apologize for the fact that I've seemingly struggled to explain the challenges.) When I testified in the Kutler case, I was speaking to some extent on behalf of some then current NARA employees. I felt I was giving voice to concerns they could not express from behind the walls at NARA. But I had to figure out a way to get their concerns on the record, without placing them in positions where they might be punished or questioned. While I took no direction NARA in my testimony, I had discussed the filing of Kutler's complaint with a number of my former colleagues at the agency.

When I expressed the concerns of named individuals in my testimony, I tried to use the names of individuals who had left NARA's Nixon Project. In cases where I quoted current staff, I said things such as "I've had conversations with a number of people at NARA" without naming individuals. It's difficult to be a spokesperson for the concerns of people you feel a deep desire to protect from possible harm. That's my main worry -- that a way be found to air out issues without an air of retribution or concerns about who might be labeled whistleblowers or disgruntled employees or whatever.

I've found these issues difficult to explain to historians, probably because in the blogosphere, being historian largely comes across as a "me" function. Few historians are managers or responsible for the welfare of others. When they write, it is mostly about their own work. That is not to say they aren't engaged in important issues, but they largely relate to research, not managerial issues.
At any rate, I've seen few in the blogosphere who would understand why one might want to protect colleagues, why it's hard to speak up, and so forth. There's a reason I'm posting all this here rather than under K C Johnson's blog, of course. You actually seem interested in the ethical quandaries and challenges at trained historians might face at places such as NARA!

 

Blogger Jeremy Young on 12/22/2008 1:21 AM:

Maarja, I do care, and I think I understand a bit better where you're coming from now. Susser and McCormack may not be able to speak freely about personnel issues if they're protecting colleagues or subordinates who've brought complaints formally or informally -- or in some other way.

Acknowledging that point, I'd still make two criticisms of the leadership team at FRUS. First, whether Susser likes it or not, Roger Louis is an important part of the team responsible for making sure FRUS gets done in a reasonable timeframe. If personnel issues are substantially hindering that process, Louis has a right to be in the loop about what's going on, even if the conversations need to take place in private. And second, once Louis decided to take the matter public, McCormack could have responded in a much better way than shouting at Louis and walking out of the room. That was a highly unprofessional way of dealing with things, particularly when tax dollars are involved. If McCormack couldn't comment on personnel for privacy reasons, he should have said so, while acknowleding Louis' right to ask the question.

 

Anonymous Anonymous on 1/30/2009 9:04 AM:

Where's the evidence against Susser? To date (we're now more than a month out), neither Louis nor any other member of the Advisory Committee has produced anything other than a "sealed envelope" containing what they claim to be allegations from office staff who complain about Susser's "management style." Aside from using a strangely McCarthy-like tactic (using a the sealed envelope and public attacks), Louis et al have produced nary a shred of evidence. For a guy with "brass balls" -- that is how Mr. Young implicitly characterized him -- Prof. Louis seems strangely spineless. If he or anyone else indeed has evidence, let them make it public. If anyone within Susser's office has a complaint, then they should use the proper channels to complain. If they don't want to use those channels, then if the truth is indeed on their side, they should have the "brass balls" to stand up publicly and make their point. If they don't have the "brass" to publicly stand up for what they claim, then perhaps their claims -- and by extension those claims made/conveyed by Louis et al -- amount to nothing more than a bunch of nonsense. That being the case, Louis and friends should go back to bottom feeding elsewhere.

As a postscript, rumor has it that Louis's real motivation in all of this is that he has close personal ties to some of the children involved in this pseudo-intellectual temper tantrum. Go figure.

 

Blogger Ahistoricality on 1/30/2009 10:49 AM:

rumor has it...

We're supposed to take unsourced rumors from an anonymous and obviously hostile commenter? What do you take us for, political scientists?

 

Anonymous Anonymous on 2/03/2009 9:20 AM:

Precisely the point. "Unsourced rumors" from "anonymous and obviously hostile" individuals are the sole basis of the claims leveled against Susser.

And an online moniker like "Ahistoricality" hardly constitutes a step above any other anonymous comment.

Still waiting for that something beyond Prof. Louis' McCarthy-like tactics...perhaps something substantive? Or is real evidence to much to expect from a profession that claims to adhere to the principals of empirical research?

 

Anonymous Anonymous on 2/03/2009 9:35 AM:

And speaking of double standards, I found this little comment from the "Anonymity" link on the Progressive Historians website. Ahistoricality and Mr. Young would both do well to remember it.

ProgressiveHistorians takes the anonymity of its contributors, commenters, and readers very seriously...With this commitment to anonymity for our posters comes a concurrent respect for the anonymity and privacy of others, even others with whom we disagree.

 

Blogger Ahistoricality on 2/03/2009 9:40 AM:

My pseudonym has been in use for several years now; it's a stable identity, a known quantity in historical blogging circles (and a few others). I take responsibility for what I write and there would be consequences if I were to provide incorrect information or trade in rumor and innuendo.

Others can speak to the FRUS issue; I haven't been following it as closely as Jeremy, Maarja and others. But there's a difference between "anonymous" sources and "sources unknown to me": there are real people who've put their careers on the line in this process, and there are legitimate reasons why their names aren't all publicly released.

 

Blogger Ahistoricality on 2/03/2009 9:43 AM:

Our comments crossed: yes, you're allowed to be anonymous; nobody's challenged that. That doesn't mean that we give your unsourced assertions the same weight as someone who has some credibility.

It's the "empirical" part, you know; evaluation of evidence and all that?

 

Anonymous Anonymous on 2/03/2009 10:11 AM:

Which goes right back to the issue.

Where is the evidence? A few unsourced allegations?

Remember that this is the same standard that you are using, Ahistoricality. Prof. Louis is no more above that standard than you or I or anybody else, titles, publications, and public accolades notwithstanding.

What's most disgusting in this case is that Prof. Louis and the Advisory Committee have formed an intellectual lynch mob that is using shameless McCarthy-like tactics to try and destroy the career of an honorable public servant.

 

Blogger Ahistoricality on 2/03/2009 10:46 AM:

I'm going to leave substantive comment to the folks who've been following the issue more closely, but not all criticisms are attacks, and not all attacks are unwarranted. Your characterization of the attacks doesn't seem to take the actual evidence into account. There are, as I said before, good reason to allow carefully collected anonymous statements in a context where criticism of a superior could well lead to significant personal and professional problems. Moreover, the problems being cited are not based on the anonymous complaints, which are supplements to several named complaintants, but on the ongoing decline and failure of the FRUS series under the "honorable" but clearly incompetent leadership of Dr. Susser.

Your focus on the anonymous portion of the complaint is a classic denialist tactic: attack the weakest evidence, and hope that in people's minds it substitutes for the entirety of the case.

 

Anonymous Anonymous on 2/03/2009 11:25 AM:

The problem is not that I have focused on the anonymous portion fo the complaint. The problem here is that Prof. Louis et al have focused on that kind of pseudo-"evidence" -- and believe me, I use the term very loosely here. Indeed, the anonymous complaints are precisely the central argument made by Prof. Louis. Hence, turning your argument back at you, it is Prof. Louis and his fan-club who are relying on the weakest evidence. And unfortunately, the unquestioning, weak, and uncritical minds of the historical profession are buying into this paper-thin "evidentiary trail" hook, line, and sinker. If you're looking for "incompetent leadership," look no further than the former president of the AHA.

That argument, by the way, has never been about whether the series is meeting the 30 year deadline or not. Indeed, in recent times the Advisory Committee has skirted that issue altogether. Rather Prof. Louis' attack has focused exclusively on the anonymous complaints of allegedly disgruntled employees and/or former employees who apparently don't like being held to "unreasonable" requirements like:

(a) meeting deadlines
(b) following rules and regulations
(c) being held accountable for their actions in general.

Of course, I suppose in the "real world" it is perfectly acceptable for people rebel against such "unreasonable" expectations created by their employers.

As for the FRUS series, it is not in decline. Rather it is progressively closing the gap on the 30 year mark, bureaucratic snaffus and obstacles (such as the sometimes lengthy declassification process) notwithstanding. Even Louis has begrudgingly conceded this fact (note that his focus has been watered down to fanning fears about FRUS 10 years down the road, rather than the current reality).

On the issue of historians coming and going from that office, it is worth noting -- as someone already has elsewhere (comment #7 on http://chronicle.com/review/brainstorm/katz/the-state-of-history-and-the-history-of-state) -- that the personnel numbers have not delcined at the rate claimed by one of the anonymous attackers. It is also worth noting that under Susser's leadership the Office has grown from a rag-tag group of 12 to almost 45, with 2/3 of the personnel working primarily on FRUS. I might add that the Historian's Office has some of the highest retention rates in the Department of State.

Read whatever you want into my anonymous comments, but suffice it to say that I am one of those "folks who've been following the issue more close," probably more closely then those who get their information (spin, misinformation, and all) from the blogosphere. By the way, that kind of information is publicly available (see the Office's annual report to Congress, for instance).

 

Blogger Ahistoricality on 2/03/2009 2:33 PM:

Now we're talking, which is to say, you're bringing information to the discussion which is verifiable. Though it doesn't jibe all that well with the evidence I've seen elsewhere, and I think your focus on the procedural questions still doesn't actually respond to the substance of the issues all that well.

The comments on the Chronicle piece are indeed quite interesting, though I'm not at all sure the comments in toto help your case all that much.

 

Anonymous Student on 2/06/2009 1:10 PM:

Anon keeps yammering over the fact that William Roger Louis used anonymous sources when making his case. If anon is so upset about that practice, then why doesn't she or he come out in the open and disclose her identity? Let's be consistent her. From the internal evidence, it's obvious that anon is a staffer at the historians office so s/he doesn't have to worry about retribution. S/he may even get a promotion for supporting the chief historian! Anon may criticize me for writing under a pseudonym, but I'm not the one who has made a federal case over this issue.

 

Anonymous Snowball on 2/08/2009 1:14 PM:

It's tough to know where to begin with Anonymous, but I will make one critical point and be done with it. Much like in George Orwell's Animal Farm, in the Department of State's Office of the Historian, some historians are apparently "more equal" than others. As anonymous well knows--and knows personally (he has revealed himself with his trademark phrases, anti-intellectualism, and disdain for Roger Louis as well as for the historical profession in general)-- deadlines, other rules, and accountability are not applied equally in the office. This is the primary reason for the decline in morale and why so many employees have left over the past couple of years. This is something that management either refuses to acknowledge or is incapable of understanding. Would a well-managed office allow what has happened to escalate to such an extreme degree? Certainly not. Perhaps instead of continuously employing a bunker-mentality approach to what has happened, management could have practiced a little introspection and then self-correction. Had it done so, much of this could have been avoided.

 

Anonymous curveball on 2/08/2009 6:37 PM:

“Anonymous” wants you to believe that the Historical Advisory Committee has not produced anything other than a "sealed envelope" containing what they claim to be allegations from office staff who complain about Susser's "management style." But this distorts the truth. As stated in an earlier post on the Chronicle for Higher Education: “At least one former staffer put his case against Dr. Susser openly on record and numerous current and former staff members have spoken to Dr. Susser’s superiors regarding his management of the office and treatment of employees. Those inside the Historian’s Office are also familiar with another documented case against Dr. Susser that most likely did not appear in the sealed envelope.” (http://chronicle.com/review/brainstorm/index.php?id=1090)

Furthermore, there are other statistics that don’t need to be included in any sealed envelope to support the Advisory Committee’s claims. Let’s look at the division in the Historian’s Office currently being “managed” by Douglas Kraft. Between June 2007 and July 2008, five of the seven historians under Kraft’s supervision left the office for positions in academia and government, four of whom cited problems with Kraft. Another historian under Kraft’s supervision has since left the office. This accounts for roughly 90% of HO departures during that period. Anonymous would like you to believe that the historians left because they could not meet deadlines, follow rules and regulations, and objected to being held accountable for their actions. Yet, the reasons behind these departures are well known to those inside the Office: Kraft routinely argued with his employees over their year-end review; failed to review their volumes in a timely manner; did not respond to his staff’s email; haggled with employees over minuscule issues such as the use of proper punctuation even when he was 100% in the wrong; accused those under his supervision of not following proper security procedures; insisted to one employee that he was God; and lacks the basic social skills that you would expect a person in that position to have.

Some of you reading this may wonder why Kraft’s inability to manage seven people in a professional manner should impact the case against Susser. Those who are familiar with the workings of the Historian’s Office know that Kraft would not behave in such childish manner if he was not supported—in fact, encouraged—by Dr. Susser. Susser alone is responsible for the fact that Kraft was promoted to a Division Chief above more qualified employees, and several times has sought to promote Kraft to more senior levels of management (including creating a GS-15 position that was ultimately rejected by the Department). Many inside the Historian’s Office also believe that Susser would have promoted Kraft to General Editor had the Department not stepped in and suspended Susser’s hiring powers (I’m sure it was just a honest mistake that the original posting for the General Editor position was only open for one week and to Department employees, thus ensuring that they would attract as few applicants as possible. And you wonder why the Department suspended Susser’s hiring powers?) Surely you would think that if Susser had a problem with Kraft’s actions and behavior towards his employees, or was concerned about how the numerous departures under his supervision will impact the production of the Foreign Relations series, he wouldn’t go out of his way to promote him to a position where he would have ultimate supervision over more employees. This speaks to Susser’s judgment and should be taken into consideration by the Department as they determine whether Susser is suited to continue running the Historian’s Office.

Finally, Anonymous seems to be particularly upset by the fact that the comments in the sealed envelope have remained anonymous (though he, ironically, has no problem with his anonymity on this page). But there are clear reasons for this. As Anon 2’s February 3 posting on the Chronicle pointed out, Dr. Susser made it clear to office employees in the summer of 2008 that they cannot make any public comments, “even in the case of an activity that has no ‘official concern’ to the Department of State,” without seeking Susser’s approval (http://chronicle.com/review/brainstorm/index.php?id=1090). In another documented case (not in the sealed envelope) one historian was reprimanded for speaking about FRUS to a group of graduate students at George Washington University’s Summer Institute for Conducting Archival Research. If employees of the Historian’s Office cannot discuss FRUS in an academic setting without being reprimanded by their supervisors, why would Anonymous think that they would feel free to publicly comment about their supervisors without fear of retribution?

 

Anonymous Anger_Management on 2/09/2009 2:44 PM:

“Anonymous” has little more to offer us here than name-calling and baseless accusations. He calls William Roger Louis “spineless” and “bottom-feeding” and accuses him of “incompetent leadership” as former president of the AHA (without a shred of evidence, of course). Current and former employees of the Historian’s Office who have criticized Susser’s leadership are “children … involved in a pseudo-intellectual temper tantrum,” who simply don’t want to “meet deadlines,” “follow rules and regulations,” or “be held accountable for their actions in general.” Prof. Louis and the Advisory Committee, he asserts, have “formed an intellectual lynch mob.” The “historical profession” consists of “unquestioning, weak, and uncritical minds.”
Temper tantrum, indeed!
Although it is difficult to sift through the comments of “Anonymous” to find arguments based in fact, I will do my best to respond as another one of the “folks who’ve been following the issue more closely,” including the apparent efforts by “anon” at the Chronicle website and “Anonymous” at this website to besmirch Professor Louis’s good name. Both “anon” and “Anonymous” share a mutual distaste for anonymous accusations, except when they are making such accusations themselves.
First, “Anonymous” claims that the only evidence against Susser of mismanagement is a “sealed envelope” of anonymous complaints, which “Anonymous” anonymously dismisses without even knowing their content. Just because the complaints are anonymous does not mean that they are untrue; if that were the case, we should disregard everything “Anonymous” has written here – although perhaps we should do so, anyway.
However, Professor Louis presented more evidence to Secretary of State Rice than anonymous complaints. He wrote, for example: “So large are the numbers of staff members leaving, or contemplating departure [at the Historian’s Office, HO], that the integrity of the Foreign Relations series is now in jeopardy. To give you a rough idea of the extent of the problem, 15 historians or compilers in a staff of about 35 have left in the last three years during Dr. Susser’s tenure.” An attached commentary by a “long time member of the staff” at HO noted that in the past year, FRUS lost seven of its 35 compilers – 20% of the staff – and 30% of its FRUS staff experience (64 out of 212 years). Louis also provided Rice with a letter from Dr. Edward C. Keefer, the former General Editor of the Foreign Relations series, who, according to Louis, “felt obliged to resign in August of this year in protest against office mismanagement and the probable deterioration of the series.” Keefer’s complaint against Susser’s management was not anonymous – a fact that “Anonymous” should appreciate. Louis also provided Rice with “a comparative statistical study of staff attrition, and the reasons, under the last two Historians, William Slany (1993 - 2000) and Marc Susser (2001 to present).” I question “Anonymous’s” assertion that the Historian’s Office “has some of the highest retention rates in the Department of State.” Perhaps Anonymous is including Foreign Service Officers, who normally rotate out of a given position every two years? The Historian’s Office consists exclusively of civil servants. Anyway, the proper standard of comparison for retention in the Historian’s Office under Susser is not the State Department as a whole, but the office under his predecessors. Unlike the other offices at State, practically all the compilers working on FRUS have Ph.D.’s in history and have wanted to remain in the historical profession – well, at least until recently. Louis is thus correct in comparing retention under Susser to his predecessor, William Slany, and the comparison is unfavorable to Susser. For Louis’s letter, see http://fas.org/sgp/advisory/state/wrlouis112808.pdf.
In addition to the signed complaints of Prof. Louis and Dr. Keefer – and yes, the anonymous letters of current and former staff members – two other former HO staff members are now publicly on the record as opposed to the managerial status quo at the Historian’s Office. A recent article by Justin Vogt in the New Yorker reports on the experiences of Craig Daigle, a former member of the HO staff and current assistant professor at the City University of New York (see http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2009/01/12/090112ta_talk_vogt). According to Vogt, Daigle wrote in a memorandum to the advisory committee: “Susser warned him that if he ‘committed any mistake, had any problems with security issues, or created any dissension within the office, he would ‘cut my fucking heart out.’ ” Daigle’s assertion is not anonymous; it is within the public domain, and Susser can respond. If Daigle’s assertion is true, it might help explain why others with complaints have chosen to remain anonymous; perhaps they are rather attached to their own hearts? Another former staff member, Douglas Selvage, has published an online comment about the status of the Historian’s Office, in which he calls on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take remedial action (http://hnn.us/articles/60911.html). Apparently, based on his five years of experience in the office, he tends to believe the concerns of the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) over Susser’s claims. It would seem that Selvage, despite Susser’s assertions to the contrary, did have concerns about Susser’s management of the office before he left. If Susser and “Anonymous” want to have a public argument, they can apparently have it.
So much for “Anonymous” and “anonymity”; it seems that those concerned about Susser’s management of the office are more willing to go public than Susser and his erstwhile supporters, including “Anonymous.”
Second, “Anonymous” writes, “If anyone within Susser's office has a complaint, then they should use the proper channels to complain.” Isn’t the Advisory Committee a “proper channel”? “Anonymous” is likely referring to the internal grievance procedures of the Department of State. If someone did use those channels to complain – and they probably did, given the number of complaints – the process is confidential. How could “Anonymous” know that office employees did not make use of such channels? Of course, this raises an important point. Since personnel matters, including grievances, at the State Department are confidential, this helps explain why all the relevant sources are not available to historians to analyze. The personnel records of Susser and his staff are not available to the public; nor should they be. Rather than publish the anonymous complaints in the sealed envelope, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appointed a three-person review committee to investigate the situation. Clearly, she took the situation more seriously than “Anonymous” does; she met personally with Prof. Louis – guess she doesn’t consider him to be a “bottom feeder” – and the Historical Advisory Committee – apparently, not an “intellectual lynch mob” to her. The review committee has spoken with practically all current and former employees of the office, including Susser and HO’s supervisors, and reviewed all available evidence. They submitted their report, including their recommendations to Secretary Rice, and she forwarded it to Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy for implementation. We can only hope that the committee’s findings will soon be made public. Such a report from an outside committee will undoubtedly go beyond the anonymous and public statements of Susser’s supporters and detractors and present summary conclusions. The report can hopefully provide the basis for the very public and open debate about Susser’s management that “Anonymous” is seeking.
Third, from a State Department perspective, it seems clear that Susser has mismanaged HO’s relationship to the Historical Advisory Committee. This is particularly grave, given that HO lies within the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs – its public relations outfit – and that HO is supposed to fulfill an outreach function to historians and the scholarly community in general. After Professor Tom Schwartz of Vanderbilt University drafted last year’s annual report for the committee, which criticized HO under Susser’s management, HO summarily decided not to renew Schwartz’s membership on the committee. In response to this apparent purge, Professor Edward Rhodes of Rutgers University resigned in protest from the HAC. Schwartz’s removal, he wrote Secretary Rice, “appears to reasonable, informed observers as a calculated, punitive step by the department designed to intimidate the Advisory Committee and to reduce its independence.” (See http://www.fas.org/sgp/advisory/state/rhodes120208.pdf.) Moreover, the day before Louis read his resignation letter into the meeting’s record, “someone in Susser’s office,” Vogt writes, “had called [Louis’s assistant] and said that if Louis made the letter public ‘his career would be over.’” Are the postings of “Anonymous” part of such an attempt to realize this colorful and hopeless fantasy of revenge? At any rate, Susser did not seem to deal well with the advisory committee’s criticisms; perhaps this is another reason why Secretary Rice turned to an outside committee for assistance.
Fourth, “Anonymous” apparently does not believe – like Susser himself – that the loss of experienced employees constitutes a problem. This failure to retain experienced employees is central to Professor Louis’s argument – outside the “sealed envelope” – that Susser has been mismanaging the Historian’s Office. Selvage has noted in his posting for History News Network: “HO has responded to the committee’s criticism not by explaining any steps it has taken or will take to retain experienced employees; instead, it has responded by claiming it can rapidly replace experienced people with new, inexperienced people. Such an attitude is part of the problem, not the solution.” The Historian’s response to the Advisory Committee’s critical annual report argues that the ongoing loss of experienced employees “does not constitute a ‘chronic shortage,’ or a problem of retention, or a problem of replacement. The fact is that the Office had no difficulty replacing either of these compilers, or, in fact, any staff member who has left over the years, with highly skilled researchers” – i.e., new researchers fresh out of graduate school. (http://fas.org/sgp/advisory/state/2007report-edit.pdf) Selvage, in contrast, argues for the importance of experience in terms of completing volumes more quickly (see http://hnn.us/articles/60911.html). Ironically, Susser himself has acknowledged elsewhere the importance of experience for meeting the statutory requirement that FRUS constitute a “thorough, accurate, and reliable” documentary record of U.S. foreign policy. At the meeting of the Historical Advisory Committee on September 8-9, 2008, “William Burr from the National Security Archive asked if the planned number of volumes covering the Reagan administration have shifted at all. Susser replied that they have not yet, but that soon there should be a trip out to the Reagan library to check its holdings, after which there may be some changes. Burr said that 38 seemed like a low number, and Susser replied that the office has discussed this thoroughly, but that there are several factors (30-YEAR LINE, number of compilers and their clearances and EXPERIENCE, etc.) that limit the number of Reagan volumes the office could do.” (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/adcom/mtgnts/113212.htm) In other words, Susser has already publicly conceded, in meeting minutes that he himself approved, that the past and ongoing loss of experience will impact the “thoroughness” of the coverage of the Reagan Administration and – implicitly – its successors. He also hinted at one likely step he will take to try to meet the 30-year line: limit the number of volumes – i.e., the “thoroughness” of coverage – for the Reagan years. Interestingly, in the same rebuttal of the HAC’s critical annual report, HO asserts: “A review of the publication schedule for the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations shows that volumes were published, on average, 33 years after the event. By cutting the delay down to 31 to 32 years—by the General Editor’s estimate—we are actually making progress toward reaching the 30-year line, rather than moving away from it.” This assertion directly contradicts the previous public testimony of former General Editor Ted Keefer. According to the HAC meeting minutes from June 2-3, 2008 – again, approved, by Susser – Keefer stated: “Thirty-three of the Nixon volumes remained to be published, and the average volume was published 34 years after the fact. The average Truman and Eisenhower volumes had been published after 33 years.” There is no mention here of “31 to 32 years” as HO claims. Indeed, Keefer also stated: “Only 3 Nixon-Ford volumes [out of 57, or 5.3%] had been published within the 30-year limit. In contrast, 30% of the Eisenhower volumes, 16% of the Kennedy volumes, and 34% of the Johnson volumes had met the 30-year limit.” (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/adcom/mtgnts/109419.htm) Apparently, Susser change his mind about his own and Keefer’s previous statements only later, when he sought to rebut the criticisms in the HAC’s annual report.
So, if we examine the actual evidence, the arguments of neither “Anonymous” nor Susser himself hold water. The evidence of Susser’s mismanagement of the office consists of more than anonymous complaints in a sealed envelope; it includes statistical evidence regarding the retention of experienced staff; the signed testimony of the former General Editor, Edward C. Keefer; the now-public allegations regarding Susser’s treatment of a former employee, Craig Daigle; the public statement by another former employee, Douglas Selvage, calling on Hillary Clinton to take remedial action; Susser’s own public action in not re-inviting Tom Schwartz to serve on the HAC; Edward Rhodes’s resignation in protest at the said “purge” of Schwartz; and the HAC’s expressed lack of confidence in Susser and disapproval of his methods. So what is left? Only the now debunked claims of Susser, based on the previous statements of himself and Keefer to the HAC. We also have, of course, the alleged phone call by a member of Susser’s staff to Louis’s office, warning him that if he read his letter of resignation into the record of the December HAC meeting, “his career would be over,” and the name-calling and baseless accusations of “Anonymous.” Perhaps these constitute indirect evidence themselves of a pattern of behavior on the part of Susser and his supporters? Threatening – allegedly, of course – to “cut” an employee’s “fucking heart out”; allegedly “purging” a dissenting member from the advisory committee; allegedly attempting to intimidate the chairman of the advisory committee with a phone call; and apparent efforts by at least one of Susser’s supporters to allegedly savage the good name of Professor Louis in this blog and elsewhere – perhaps all this provides additional insight into why so many experienced employees have left the Historian’s Office?

 

Anonymous Snowball on 2/09/2009 3:50 PM:

We can add to Anger-Management's thorough accounting of Susser's incredibly immature and ineffective way of dealing with critics the removal of Secrecy News's Steven Aftergood from a Historian's Office distribution list after a not-so-favorable review of aspects of a Foreign Relations volume. The lesson that seems to go unlearned to this day is that pridefully attacking critics instead of engaging them with a modicum of humility and respect for their point of view makes things exponentially worse rather than better.

 

Anonymous Anonymous on 2/10/2009 7:49 AM:

I don't want to discourage any further debate -- and the comments above certainly make for interesting reading. But by any objective standard, this isn't a fair fight anymore (if it ever was). "Anonymous" lost on points long ago and by a wide margin. And now "Anger Management" has knocked him down with a lethal combination. Does "Anonymous" really want to come out for another round to be knocked out cold? He should spare us all by staying in his corner and licking his wounds. Meanwhile, "rumor has it," to coin a phrase, that the report of the Secretary's review panel on the Historian's Office may well be released soon. If so -- and as entertaining as it's been -- the argument above will be "overtaken by events." Let's hope that's the case.

 

Anonymous Anger_Management on 2/10/2009 10:36 AM:

Amen.

 

Anonymous Anger_Management on 2/12/2009 10:40 AM:

The Review Committee has released its report; see http://www.fas.org/sgp/advisory/state/ho-review.pdf and http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2009/02/management.html.

Unlike the original "Anonymous," it seems to think there is a management problem. It euphemistically recommends a "reorganization" and closer supervision of the Historian...

 

Anonymous Anger_Management on 2/12/2009 11:42 AM:

If one reads between the lines of the Review Committee's report, it seems quite damning. Let's go through it point-by-point.

1. To restore an "atmosphere of trust between HO leadership and the compiler-historians, and between the HO and the HAC ... will require diplomacy and leadership; i.e., effective management."

Subtext: The current office management has not demonstrated diplomacy and leadership -- i.e., effective management. There is no atmosphere of trust between HO's management, on the one hand, and HO's employees and the scholarly community (HAC), on the other.

2. "We find that the current working atmosphere in the HO and between the HO and the HAC poses real threats to the high scholarly quality of the FRUS series and the benefits it brings."

Subtext: Despite the denials of Susser and "Anonymous," the working atmosphere in the office does threaten the FRUS series; simply replacing experienced employees with new ones won't solve the problem.

3. The committee calls for a "reorganization" of the Historian's Office and "whosoever is Historian" -- an open question! -- should have "clear and unequivocal work requirements that set forth improving morale and trust within the office as an immediate goal."

Subtext: The Historian, whoever it is (and will be), needs to work on morale and trust, preferably with close supervision from above.

4. In point #3, the committee recommends no new hires until a "reorganization" is implemented.

Subtext: The committee seems concerned about current management's hiring practices.

5. "... the State Department should consider the optimal placement of the HO within the Departmental structure so as to ensure effective management."

Subtext: The Public Affairs Bureau has not been doing its job, either, when it comes to "effective management" of HO. HO clearly needs more effective management from above.

6. "We recommend that there be a careful and supportive study of information security issues in the HO that is designed to generate practical solutions to ... information security workplace challenges....

Subtext: The current management's insistence on labyrinthine security procedures, determined in part by the Historian's refusal to move the office to more secure facilities, has been creating "challenges" to the completion of their work on FRUS.

7. "We recommend that the HO management, with the approval of its State Department Oversight authority and in consultation with the HAC, develop clear paths for the HAC and for office personnel to bring serious professional concerns to the attention of appropriate authorities up the chain of command."

Subtext: There have been no "clear paths" for office employees to make their grievances known; maybe this is why they have not used the "proper grievance procedures" touted by "Anonymous."

8. There is a "need for clear written procedures regarding re-appointment of members of the HAC."

Subtext: No more making use of administrative loopholes to "purge" HAC members who dare to criticize HO's performance.

9. "... we believe that effective management is the responsibility of the managers, not the managed, and that strong, effective management and leadership will be needed to rebuild and maintain a positive, high-performing team in HO."

Subtexts: (1) The Historian is responsible for failures in management. (2) "Strong, effective management and leadership are needed" -- apparently, they are not present currently. (3) There is a need to "rebuild" a "positive, high-performing team" -- i.e., somehow, the previous "high-performing team" was knocked down.

In sum, the Review Committee's report suggests a need for "strong effective management and leadership" in the Historian's Office -- something, which it implies, has not been present. Who the Historian will be is an open question, at least as far as the Review Committee is concerned, pending a proposed "reorganization." Whoever runs HO needs to work on restoring morale and trust within the office because this effects performance on the FRUS series.

Sounds like a thorough indictment of HO's current management to me.

 

Anonymous Interpreting the Kimball Report on 2/12/2009 10:30 PM:

The release of the “Kimball Report” examining the “crisis in the Foreign Relations series” is hardly the conclusive report one would have expected coming as a direct task from the Secretary of State. The report lacks firm recommendations regarding Susser’s future tenure in the office and leaves the Historian’s Office in a state of limbo while the Department considers its next actions; it makes ambiguous claims regarding HO security procedures to those who may be unfamiliar with such practices; and it fails to take a firm position on Susser’s decision to remove Tom Schwartz from the Historical Advisory Committee, which prompted the resignation of Ed Rhodes from that same committee. Still, there are several important points one can deduce from the report:

First, there is not one shred of evidence in the Kimball report that supports Susser’s claims that the accusations against him in the “sealed envelope” can be characterized as “slime and innuendo,” as he claimed during the December 10 meeting of the Historical Advisory Committee. To the contrary, the report concludes that “the current working atmosphere in HO and between the HO and the HAC poses real threats to the high scholarly quality of the FRUS series.” Having interviewed and received statements from some 35 current and former HO employees, as well as members of the Public Affairs Bureau, Historical Advisory Committee (HAC), and senior members of HO management, only one person could claim that there was no crisis or problem beyond what is normal in an office (take a guess who that was!). Thus, even the few who remain loyal to Susser concede that there is a “crisis” in the Historian’s Office.

The report also makes it clear that Susser has provided ineffective management of the Historian’s Office that has led to a decline in morale and, by consequence, numerous staff departures—exactly the charge that Professor Wm. Roger Louis made when resigning from the HAC in December. According to the report, the “atmosphere of trust” between HO leadership and the compiler-historian, as well as HO leadership and the HAC, has been lost; HO management has failed to “develop clear paths for the HAC and for office personnel to bring serious professional concerns to the attention of appropriate authorities up the chain of command”; and questions persist between HO staff and leadership regarding “information security issues” (a very delicate way of saying that Susser’s handling and enforcement of security issues inside HO may differ from that of the rest of the State Department). “In any event,” the report concludes, “whosoever is The Historian should have clear and unequivocal work requirements that set forth improving morale and trust within the office as a primary and immediate goal.”

Perhaps most important, though, the Kimball report offers no support for retaining Dr. Susser as The Historian of the Department. Instead, Kimball, Spector, and Whiteside make it clear that “there are major management challenges in the HO that warrant serious consideration of a reorganization of that office,” and believe that “strong, effective, management and leadership will be needed to maintain a positive, high performance team in HO.” Given that the members of the Kimball commission hold Susser responsible for the current problems in the office—“we believe that effective management is the responsibility of the mangers, not the managed”—and that they do not even trust Susser with filling the position of the General Editor or the Division Chief (see point 3), one can only deduce that they do not believe Susser is capable of taking on such a challenge, and that the "serious" responsibility for repairing the damages in HO should therefore fall to a new Historian—“whosoever” that may be.

 

Anonymous Anonymous on 2/13/2009 10:40 AM:

An interesting situation, but it's clear that most of you aren't government employees.

Supervisors, no matter how deficient, cannot be removed from office based on anonymous allegations. No matter how disliked or feared, an accused person must be allowed to speak to the charges against them. "Anonymous" does matter because the charges cannot be evaluated for accuracy or timeliness. (Are all of them recent or a decade old? We simply cannot say.)This is not evidence that would stand up to legal scrutiny.

If I understand this correctly, the allegations have been leveled by employees who have either moved on or who are still in the office. Those who are gone would seem to have no reason to withhold their names now--wouldn't they be beyond Susser's power to affect their careers? Those still inside would have whistleblower protection. What could he possibly do with the entire academic community watching?

I fear that Dr. Louis and the historians have made a grave tactical error. Every agency, including I'm sure this one, have internal dispute mechanisms. By moving their charges outside official channels, Susser and Kraft can now claim with some legitimacy that THEY have been damaged by ongoing public debate like this, if nothing else. I would doubt that even the Secretary of State (or maybe especially the Secretary of State) has the power to override Civil Service personnel protections. Unless something new and dramatic emerges, it does not seem that there will be a resolution that will satisfy anyone.

A Government Bureaucrat (NOT "anonymous")

 

Anonymous Anonymous on 2/14/2009 11:20 PM:

It's clear that the previous comment was probably written by a "government bureaucrat." But it's also equally clear, contrary to what he (or she) claims, that most of the others were also written by government bureaucrats.

So here's some friendly advice for "Government Bureaucrat": perhaps it would be best not to begin your comment with a statement that is demonstrably untrue.

In fact, while I'm at it, let me be perfectly clear: most of the comments, including this one and the last, were probably written by either former or current members of the Office of the Historian.

As one familiar with the situation, I won't pretend to be entirely "objective." Or, to be more accurate, I should say: based on my objective analysis of the available evidence, I have already concluded that Marc Susser has mismanaged the office and should be removed.

"Bureaucrat," however, wants us to believe that he is objective and is simply giving the reader the benefit of his considerable wisdom and experience. Meanwhile, he doesn't want the reader to think that he is a member of Marc Susser's inner circle.

But that's what he (or she) is. Whatever else might be said of "Government Bureaucrat," his case is not enhanced by pretending to be something that he's not (or, perhaps I should say, pretending not to be something that he is).

Both Susser and "Bureaucrat" are obsessed with the "sealed envelope" of anonymous allegations. In fact, they are so obsessed with the sealed envelope that they miss an essential point: even if there were no allegations, anonymous or otherwise, the case against Susser -- in particular, the exodus of experienced compilers -- would still support his removal. Of course, the fact that not only Roger Louis but also Warren Kimball -- and by extension Condoleezza Rice -- took the anonymous allegations seriously would tend to undermine the argument against the "sealed envelope."

Both Susser and "Bureaucrat" have also argued that Roger Louis and others made a "grave tactical error" by failing to make use of "internal dispute mechanisms." As Susser and his supporters well know, this simply isn't true. Louis, the Advisory Committee, at least one manager, and several members of the staff repeatedly raised the issue with the leadership of the Bureau of Public Affairs. One employee filed a successful EEO complaint against Susser. Others reportedly seriously considered filing grievances against him before deciding to register their disapproval the traditional way: by voting with their feet. So the charge is false. Repeating it over and over here and elsewhere on the Internet does not, and will not, make it true.

And, lest we forget, neither Susser nor "Bureaucrat" is a lawyer. So their claims about what evidence would stand up to "legal scrutiny" are less than persuasive. Even less persuasive, however, is the argument that "Susser and Kraft can now claim with some legitimacy that THEY have been damaged by [the] ongoing public debate." If Susser and Kraft want to claim such damage, they will have to prove in a civil suit for defamation of character that someone willfully and knowingly stated something untrue, or with a malicious disregard for the truth, to injure them in their professional capacity. They can try this if they want to waste the money but they will lose in the attempt. And the process of discovery in the suit will establish that the charges are essentially true, even without regard to the intentions of the defendant(s).

 

Anonymous Anonymous on 2/15/2009 11:47 PM:

Readers still interested in commenting on this open thread may want to continue the debate on an update posted on this site on February 14. The relevant link is http://www.progressivehistorians.com/2009/02/foreign-relations-of-us-update.html.

 

Anonymous Anonymous on 8/17/2009 7:35 AM:

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 

Blogger AndrewMc on 8/17/2009 8:27 AM:

Above post deleted because it was a commercial advertisement.

 

Blogger Ahistoricality on 8/17/2009 8:49 AM:

When Blogger asks you if you want to "delete permanently" and you say yes, then the post completely disappears -- no post marker with "removed by an administrator" -- and you can dispense with the notifications. I'd recommend that for commercial spam: I don't think anyone here really needs to see the tracks to know that you've done something useful and inocuous.

 

Blogger AndrewMc on 8/17/2009 9:46 AM:

Hmmm, OK. My thinking was that I'd be accused of deleting posts for content, and then someone would say "See, censorship."

Doesn't matter to me, though.