by AndrewMc | 2/14/2009 09:28:00 AM
Over the past month there has been an extensive and somewhat spirited discussion of the future of the Foreign Relations of the United States series published by the State Department's Office of the Historian. Jeremy originally brought this to the attention of Progressive Historians in an open thread, and a lively discussion followed.

Over the past few days there has been some movement on this issue.

According to an article published by the Federation of American Scientists,

A management crisis in the State Department Office of the Historian threatens the future of the official “Foreign Relations of the United States” (FRUS) series that documents the history of U.S. foreign policy, according to a newly disclosed report on the situation.

The article goes on to note that

But on closer inspection, the report makes at least two crucial points. First, it confirms that the crisis is real. Out of several dozen people who were interviewed and consulted, “only a single person suggested that there was no crisis, no problem beyond what is normal in an office.”

Second, regardless of who may be to blame, “we believe that effective management is the responsibility of the managers, not the managed….” In other words, the Office leadership, including the Historian himself, has failed to manage the Office in an appropriate manner.

This doesn't sound like the end of the issue, of course, and it would be a shame to see a valuable publication such as FRUS suffer the consequences of this problem. I look forward to seeing continued discussion of this matter here and in other areas.

One final note: Progressive Historians takes anonymity seriously. I want to remind readers that people post anonymously for a variety of reasons, many of which are not immediately apparent. For some, it is their very anonymity that makes it possible for them to speak out on the issues that they do.

In that regard, people who post anonymously should feel that they can post without fear that anyone who manages this site will "out" them, and without the fear that any other poster will attempt to guess their identity. Finally, people who contact me off-list should also be assured that I will keep their identities confidential, but that I will also treat any information I am given with the normal amount of skepticism that one would expect of an analytical researcher.

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Blogger Unknown on 2/14/2009 1:54 PM:

I really like that anonymity policy at the bottom. Perhaps you'd like to replace some or all of my old one with it (particularly since Online Integrity doesn't exist any more, and I'm pretty sure we're the only blog left that uses the Pledge).


Anonymous Anonymous on 2/14/2009 6:09 PM:

IMO, an anonymity policy shouldn't be used to censor comments.

It's especially disturbing to think that merely raising a point of view that is shared by literally millions of people around the world is verboten on a so-called progressive site.

As part of the evolution here, may I modestly suggest that in keeping with the spirit of disappearing comments (with no way for readers to even know they were ever posted in the first place), it's time to update the site's name.

My recommendation is that henceforth it should be called:
"Repressive Historians".

An honest name is a good name.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 2/14/2009 8:33 PM:

Can you read, anonymous? There's nothing in the anonymity policy -- which needs, I think, a caveat clause about posters who use anonymity as cover to abuse other posters and commenters -- about comment deletion.

You're covered under "trolls."

An honest name is a good name.

Thus spake anonymous. (There's nothing in the policy that says we can't point out the hypocrisy of anonymous commenters, right?)


Blogger Ahistoricality on 2/14/2009 8:47 PM:

p.s. "Additionally, please note that the editor reserves the right to delete and/or ban any comment or commenter at any time for any reason. Actions which will result in immediate banning include plagiarism, harrassment, hate speech, spamming, and malicious outing of another poster."


Anonymous Anonymous on 2/20/2009 9:54 AM:

Hey, everybody, I finally figured out the "proper procedures" for grievances to which "Anonymous" kept referring. It wasn't apparently the Inspector General, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the union, or lawsuits.

He or she was apparently referring to the grievance procedure for civil servants in the Foreign Affairs Manual, 3 FAM 4700. (For those of you who don't work at State, you can find it online at According to 3 FAM 4730, before a civil-service employee can make a formal complaint, they must use the informal procedure in 3 FAM 4720. 3 FAM 4720 reads: "An employee who has a grievance is expected to discuss it initially with the
employee’s immediate supervisor. The grievance may be presented orally or
in writing.... The supervisor shall inform the
employee within 10 calendar days of receipt of the grievance of the
proposed manner of adjustment or of the reasons why adjustment favorable
to the employee is not made."

What if the grievance is against your supervisor? I guess he or she then has 10 days to make clear to you how the grievance will be resolved, to reject your grievance, or to warn you that they are like a god to you and they will punish your insubordination.

After another 10 days, if the employee is dissatisfied with the immediate supervisor's resolution or non-resolution of the grievance, they can then "present the
grievance in writing to the employee’s administrative or executive officer,
division chief, office director, or other official in line of authority." That official can, in turn, resolve the grievance, reject it, or perhaps even allegedly threaten to "tear your f(*#@! heart out" if you sow any more "dissension."

At that point, the employee can turn to the formal grievance procedure under 3 FAM 4730. By that time, your work requirements may have already been changed, your cubicle may have been moved to Siberia, or if you are a contractor, you may have already been fired for some alleged violation on your part.

I can see why "Anonymous" would prefer this "proper procedure." It beats "sealed envelopes" any day -- especially if you want to crush any potential opposition.


Anonymous Anonymous on 3/02/2009 1:18 AM:

Douglas Selvage has posted an update on the Historian's Office at History News Network.


Anonymous Anonymous on 3/06/2009 2:49 AM:

The Skeptical Bureaucrat (TSB) has posted an account of the most recent meeting of the Historical Advisory Committee, the panel of historians, archivists, and other scholars who oversee the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series.

After providing some local color regarding the HAC meeting, TSB writes:

"I didn't really expect drama at yesterday's public session of the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC), and there wasn't any. There were no resignations in protest, no mass walk out, no fist-fights, not even any harsh language. If there will be any confrontation of Dr. Marc Susser over the accusations brought against him of mismanaging the Historian's Office, I assume it will be done in private and more likely by Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy than by the HAC itself.

"The public session took place with nothing said about the elephant in the room. On the agenda was a review of HO's plans for future production of Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS, pronounced "Froose") volumes, and a report on the Department's progress on the review and declassification of historical documents. The closest anyone came to touching on a sore point was when a few members persistently questioned the wisdom of the Historian's announced intention to produce only about 38 volumes on the Reagan years, which would be fewer volumes than were produced for comparable eight-year periods. There seemed to be a consensus that 38 or so volumes would not be enough to properly document foreign relations during the Reagan years."

I commented: "As you surmised, most of the real action took place outside the meeting. Reportedly, members of the HAC met with Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy, members of the Office of Inspector General's inspection team (probably just for a briefing about what the OIG does), and with members of the special Review Committee for HO. This all happened outside the open session of the HAC meeting.

"Still, the debate over FRUS volumes for the Reagan Administration is an important one. It gets to the important issue, raised by Douglas Selvage in his [new] HNN posting -- namely, whether Susser is trying to reach the statutory 30-year mark by sacrificing the statutory requirement that the series be a 'thorough and accurate' record of U.S. foreign policy."

TSB is probably correct in his assessment:

"The next big development in the crisis within the HO will most likely be the report of the Inspector General investigation that is underway, and its probable recommendations regarding reconfiguring the Historian's Office."

It is possible, though, that the HAC's annual report for CY 2008 may come out before or around the same time as the OIG report. If the last report, drafted by Thomas Schwartz and approved by the entire committee was critical, the new report will probably be even more so. There is no sign that production of FRUS has accelerated recently, and there seems to be little indication of improved morale or retention rates at HO.

In other interesting news, the official minutes from the December HAC meeting have been posted online. They recount in a very formal fashion the row between Susser and the committee. They confirm that nearly all -- if not all -- the members of the Advisory Committee, not just those who resigned, have serious problems with Susser's management of the office.


Anonymous Anger_Management on 4/20/2009 4:47 AM:

A new article by John Maggs at the National Journal (subscription required) asserts: "An unusual revolt by State Department employees is expected to trigger the ouster of the bureaucrat heading the Office of the Historian, a unique squad of 35 academics charged by statute with impartially chronicling America's foreign relations.

State Department Historian Marc Susser and his aide Douglas Kraft will be removed and offered other civil service positions, based on a recommendation by State's inspector general's office that will be finalized and published in the next two weeks, according to current and former employees of the office.

Although senior officials have not yet endorsed the recommendation, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert Wood last week began briefing staff historians on the decision, out of concern that several of them might soon quit or be forced out by Susser and Kraft. Susser's office said on Wednesday that he was on leave "for the next couple of days."

Seems like the die has been cast. It will be interesting to see the official announcement and -- as Maggs points out -- the extent to which the decision might have implications for other offices at the State Department, especially for those responsible for overseeing Susser's work.


Anonymous Anger_Management on 6/04/2009 4:57 PM:

The Inspector General's report on the Historian's Office is now online and available to the public: Management Review of the Office of the Historian Bureau of Public Affairs U.S. Department of State (ISP-I-09-43) (May 09).

BTW, Susser has reportedly begun at a new position. Ambassador John Campbell is currently serving as director of HO.