Foreign Relations Series Still Fails to Meet Legal Deadline

07.14.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The “Foreign Relations of the United States” (FRUS) series, which is the official documentary history of U.S. foreign policy, remains unlikely to meet the legal requirement that it be published no later than 30 years after the events that it describes, an official advisory committee has told the Secretary of State.

“Despite many and repeated assurances that this problem would be addressed by 2010, the committee is now very skeptical that the Office of the Historian will succeed in meeting the 30-year requirement for the Foreign Relations series at any time within the next decade,” the State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation wrote in its new annual report.

Compliance with the 30 year deadline is not optional; it is a binding legal requirement. “The Secretary of State shall ensure that the FRUS series shall be published not more than 30 years after the events recorded,” according to a statute enacted in 1991.

But instead of advancing towards that goal, FRUS seems to be retreating further and further away from it. The FRUS series’ sparse publication record in 2007 “was a considerable disappointment, and does not bring with it much encouragement for the future,” the committee wrote in its report to the Secretary of State.

“Last year the committee reported that ‘it is reasonable’ to be optimistic that the series would be in compliance with the law by the end of 2010,” the committee noted. “We no longer have any reason to be optimistic, and are frankly very pessimistic.”

The annual report, dated May 19, 2008, will appear in the September 2008 issue of Perspectives on History, a publication of the American Historical Association. An advance copy is available here.

“The committee must really be concerned for the report to be so explicit and emphatic,” one former State Department official told Secrecy News.

In a delicate allusion to reports of morale problems in the Office of the Historian and the ensuing resignations of professional staff, the Advisory Committee strongly recommended that State Department Human Resources personnel “conduct mandatory exit interviews to determine the principal reasons behind the departure of skilled researchers.”

The committee also expressed dismay at plans to provide reduced coverage of U.S. policy during the Reagan Administration:

“The committee is concerned that despite a collection of 8.5 million classified pages in the Reagan Library, compared with the Nixon years’ 2.5 million pages, the Office plans substantially fewer volumes of the FRUS series.”

“The publication of the Foreign Relations series stands as a symbol of commitment to openness and accountability,” the Advisory Committee report affirmed.

Regrettably, with its persistent violation of mandatory publication requirements and its diminishing productivity, the Foreign Relations series may indeed be a fitting symbol of the current state of openness and accountability.