Inspector General report on State Dept. Office of Historian made public

Historians in the News


This report was prepared by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) pursuant to the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended, and Section 209 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended. It is one of a series of audit, inspection, investigative, and special reports prepared by OIG periodically as part of its responsibility to promote effective management, accountability and positive change in the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

This report is the result of an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the office, post, or function under review. It is based on interviews with employees and officials of relevant agencies and institutions, direct observation, and a review of applicable documents.

The recommendations therein have been developed on the basis of the best knowledge available to the OIG and, as appropriate, have been discussed in draft with those responsible for implementation. It is my hope that these recommendations will result in more effective, efficient, and/or economical operations.

I express my appreciation to all of those who contributed to the preparation of this report.

Harold W. Geisel
Acting Inspector General


• The Office of the Historian (HO) is responsible by law for the publication of a thorough, accurate, and reliable account of major U.S. foreign policy de­ cisions within 30 years of the events recorded. This is the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series. While the 30-year deadline has rarely been met, HO’s influential advisory body, the Historical Advisory Committee (HAC), fears that mismanagement of the human resources made available for the FRUS and the effect of this on morale within HO – also historically poor – threaten further delay, possibly damaging the thoroughness and ac­ curacy that give the FRUS its unparalleled prestige. OIG finds these fears to be justified.

• A large majority of present HO employees alleged to OIG cronyism, fa­ voritism, and lack of transparency on the part of HO management, and in general the creation of an unhappy workplace as the basis for their disaffec­ tion. This, they said, was made worse by the manner in which one division chief carried out security and other duties that go beyond his normal area of authority. For its part, management attributed academic atavism, displeasure with security regulations, and ignorance of Civil Service rules to the same employees. Neither side shows much confidence in the other.

• Compilation and publication of the FRUS is a years-long and highly special­ ized process. Experience is a vital component in it, but with 21 employees having left HO in the past five years for differing reasons, this experience is being lost. Contrary to the director’s assertion, “newly minted” PhDs cannot perform at the necessary level of quality after only a short time on the job. Lapses in production are therefore inevitable. This likelihood is aggravated by vacancies in the jobs of general editor and one division chief that were imposed by the special review panel.

• There is a built-in tension between HO’s FRUS-related statutory obligations and the resources made available to meet them, just as there is between the timeliness and the quality of the FRUS itself. Even with an increase in staff and in budget, HO is no closer to meeting these obligations than in the past. The foreign affairs world and the players in it continue to grow in number and complexity, outpacing efforts to have FRUS keep up. There is a need for more structured thinking about how FRUS can meet its obligations and expectations within realistic funding levels. This strategic thinking and planning should be conducted jointly with HO’s advisory body, the HAC.

• With each finding fault with actions of the other, relations between HO and the HAC today are professional but strained. The director’s advisory role in the appointment and reappointment of HAC members is controversial, while the involvement in HO employee complaints by some HAC members made disaffection in HO worse.

• Oversight of HO by the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA) has not been regular or, lately, helpful. OIG believes that HO should remain in PA, but that the bureau should provide a more structured mechanism for closer supervision of HO.

• HO has a large number of contractors – 12 of its 49 positions. This means increased costs: OIG estimates that each contractor costs the U.S. Govern­ ment about $12,000 more per year than would a direct-hire employee. It also means increased instability in an office requiring a high degree of education, training, and experience to carry out its responsibilities.

• HO needs an administrative officer as well as additional direct-hire positions for historians. These would help the FRUS by allowing more time to be spent on research and compilation and by providing a more stable workforce.

• HO office space is cluttered and badly arranged; cubicles are generally small and inconvenient. The office is not sized to house 49 positions. PA should find a space planner to review the existing facility, while actively seeking larger, more suitable space for HO. The review took place in Washington, DC, between February 18 and March 27, 2009, as part of a special OIG management review of the Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Ambassador Robert E. Barbour (team leader), Robert C. Bemis, John J. Eddy, and Anita G. Schroeder conducted the review.

Read entire article at Management Review of the Office of the Historian Bureau of Public Affairs U.S. Department of State (May 2009)

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