On the rare occasions when I have to go to the State Department's headquarters building in Washington DC (my workplace is across the river in Rosslyn, Virginia: "Land of Government Annex Buildings"), I usually get lost trying to find the office I want. But yesterday I knew I was in the right place as soon as I walked in. It looked just like a faculty meeting, with most of the men wearing khakis and tweed sport coats. The shirts were mostly open-collared, and there was even one turtleneck. Sensible shoes were the norm. Backpacks outnumbered briefcases by about 5-to-1. Hardly anyone was wearing the blue suit / red tie uniform that you normally see in that building.
I can't tell whether or not the Historian's Office has become, professionally speaking, an intolerable place to work, but at least it looked like a comfortable place to work.
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(FRUS, pronounced "Froose") volumes, and a report on the Department's progress on the review and declassification of historical documents.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.
There was also a discussion about the pros and cons of publishing electronic FRUS volumes versus the traditional hard volumes. It seems the limited research that HO has done into its market, i.e., the users of the FRUS (usually scholars and graduate students, often ones located outside the U.S.), indicates that e-volumes would suit them just fine. The same amount of labor is needed to produce either kind of publication, however, the e-volumes are cheaper and have a shorter time to publication, so they seem like the better way to go.
Dr. Susser said little during the session, but I believe I heard him mention that the HAC has now sent its most recent annual report to Congress. That's interesting, assuming I heard correctly, since a heavily annotated draft of that report figures prominently in the storm of accusations and counter-accusations that has been raging since the resignations of the former HAC Chairman, William Roger Lewis, and the principal drafter of that report, committee member Thomas Schwartz. I wonder who approved the final report? And when will the Congress make it available?
Before I knew it the public session was over, we few visitors left the room, and a closed session began on the topic of declassification.
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.