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Wm. Roger Louis says there's "unfinished business at Foggy Bottom"

Historians in the News




Over the past year the American public has come dangerously close to losing the battle for a full and honest historical record of our foreign relations. Bureaucratic mismanagement within the State Department’s Office of the Historian threatened—and continues to threaten—to damage severely the documentary series, The Foreign Relations of the United States, which has been in continuous publication since 1861 and is considered the gold standard for diplomatic documentation (for a brief early discussion of these developments, see the report published in the January 2009 Perspectives on History and online at www.historians.org/perspectives ). The stakes are high and the matter is of more than academic importance. Informed decision-making in a democracy requires a reliable record of past decisions. The tradition of the Foreign Relations series requires scrupulous and meticulous editing of the documents that go into the volumes that appear at reasonable intervals. Congressional legislation created a committee to oversee and guide the official historians charged with the responsibility of producing the series. Composed of nine scholars representing professional societies such as the American Historical Association, the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation—as it is formally titled—assesses the production and quality of the Foreign Relations series, which by law must declassify and publish records, including those of intelligence agencies, within 30 years.

I served for nearly 10 years as a member of the committee, 5 of them as chairman. On December 10, 2008, I resigned to protest mismanagement of the State Department’s Office of the Historian, which is responsible for production of the series. For well over a year, members of the staff had reported to us examples of cronyism, favoritism in promotions, and forced resignations as well as vulgar language—obscenity extraordinary even by Texas standards. I witnessed a general atmosphere of mistrust and plummeting morale. In government as well as academic life there comes a point when management style or leadership converges with public responsibility. There also comes a time to speak out. Having made no progress among higher echelons in the State Department, in September I asked for testimony myself. I knew that I might have crossed the line of legislative authority into personnel matters. I am unrepentant. Having concluded that the office had become an intolerable place to work, I felt compelled to act....

Read entire article at Perspectives (AHA mag.)

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