Thursday, February 12, 2009

FRUS Review Panel Report (Finally!) Leaked

The crisis continues in the State Department's Office of the Historian, and its Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series.

Here's the background. In a public meeting last December, the FRUS Historical Advisory Committee chairman William Roger Louis, a past president of the American History Association, charged State Department Historian Marc Susser with gross mismanagement of the FRUS and called for him to be fired. A review panel was appointed by former Secretary Condoleezza Rice to look into the accusations, and in mid-January the panel produced a very brief - just two pages long - report.

That report has now leaked out (see here) just in time for the next public meeting of the FRUS Historical Advisory Committee, which will be held March 2nd.

The Review Panel report is ever so mildly worded, but it nevertheless amounts to a condemnation of Mr. Susser's management. For an insightful summary, you could hardly do better than the point-by-point interpretation posted on February 12 by "Anger Management" at the Progressive Historian website:

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 HO management,” 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. “Whosoever” 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.

It sounds like that to me, too. I'm reserving my seat early for the March 2nd meeting, and I might bring popcorn.


Domani Spero said...

Thanks for the tip on the leaked report TSB! I've linked to you here:
I look forward to your blow by blow account for that March 2 meeting.

Domani Spero said...

Thanks for the link to that leaked report, TSB! I've linked to you here:

Need your blow by blow account on that March 2 meeting!

Anonymous said...

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