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After Critical Report, State Dept.'s Historian Is Reassigned

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 8, 2009

The head of the State Department's Office of the Historian has been reassigned after an inspector general's investigation found "serious mismanagement for which the director must be held accountable."

The office has been the subject of several years of internal and external conflict. A report by Harold W. Geisel, acting State Department inspector general, said the turmoil could be resolved only with the transfer of the historian, Marc J. Susser.

"Despite any mitigating factors that may exist in favor of the director," the effects of mismanagement have lowered morale and led to the departure of so many people that "the situation cannot be allowed to continue," Geisel reported.

Although it has not been publicly announced, John Campbell, a former ambassador to Nigeria, has been designated acting director of the office, according to an internal State Department memorandum.

Susser was appointed to the historian job in 2001, at the beginning of George W. Bush's administration. He did not respond yesterday to messages requesting comment on the report.

The primary function of the Office of the Historian is to produce "Foreign Relations of the United States," a series of volumes that serves as the country's official historical record of U.S. foreign policy.

The inspector general reported: "In varying degrees, nearly 75 percent of the present employees interviewed . . . were critical of the way the office is run." They cited "alleged favoritism, cronyism, a lack of transparency, (and) lack of interest" in the "Foreign Relations" series.

The series was chartered by a 1991 law that also established the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation as the department's monitor of the office and the volumes.

Last December, William Roger Louis, chairman of that committee, sent a letter to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying, "The Historian's Office has become an intolerable place to work; the exodus of experienced historians is significant; and the future of the Foreign Relations series is at risk."

Louis also told Rice: "This year alone the office has lost 20 percent of its staff (7 of 35 members) and 30 percent of its FRUS staff experience (64 of 212 years)."

One retirement last summer was the chief editor of the "Foreign Relations" series, Edward C. Keefer. Rather than hiring a replacement, Susser took over that role.

One issue between Susser and the advisory committee was over the timeliness and thoroughness of the historical volumes, according to the inspector general's report. The advisory board noted that the 57 volumes covering the Nixon and Ford years -- the most recent to be published -- came from 2.5 million classified pages. But Susser "was planning only 38 volumes for the Reagan period for which there are 8.5 million classified pages."

Tension has been growing over the statutory obligation to publish a "thorough, accurate and reliable record of U.S. foreign policy decisions," the inspector general reported, and "the finite resources made available for this purpose."

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