The Foreign Service Journal - June 2014 - page 20

JUNE 2014
hours. (It has done so for me on several
occasions.) Ultimately, the State Depart-
ment approves almost every request it
receives for publication.
My main advice for anyone embark-
ing on this process is to work cordially
within the system, know your rights
and the State Department’s regulations,
and thoroughly cite your sources. If you
do, you should feel confident that your
material will be cleared for publication
and that the State Department will sup-
port you.
Fixing the Process
There is plenty of room for improve-
ment in the pre-publication clearance
process. First and foremost, State must do
a better job of adhering to the regula-
tions it has set forth in the Foreign Affairs
Manual. Anything short of that standard
is unfair to everyone involved.
Second, the department should estab-
lish clear guidelines on how it distrib-
utes material internally and across the
interagency community. That threshold
should have nothing to do with terms as
vague as “equities.” Instead, offices and
agencies should have the opportunity
to clear on material only if that material
is the result of “privileged information”:
information that employees acquire dur-
ing the discharge of their duties that is
not otherwise available.
Third, State needs to ensure that
former employees receive treatment
comparable to current employees. A sig-
nificant gap exists between the attention
given to current employees by PA and
that former employees receive from A/
As that lengthy acronym suggests,
former employees are relegated to an
obscure office in the Bureau of Adminis-
tration when they seek pre-publication
clearance. In contrast, the PA leadership
is often engaged and provides consistent
oversight of the review process for cur-
rent employees. This bifurcation not only
creates unnecessary bureaucratic layers
and redundancies, but places additional
burdens on former employees trying
to do the right thing by clearing their
manuscripts. This discrepancy should be
These short-term fixes would go a long
way toward improving the pre-publica-
tion clearance process for employees. In
the long term, however, the State Depart-
ment should consider establishing a
publication review board modeled on the
CIA’s Publication Review Board.
A State Department PRB would codify
a transparent, objective and fair process
that minimizes the need for interagency
clearance, ensures proper and consistent
determinations on what material should
be classified, and reduces the strain on
the State Department at large, and its
employees in particular.
Ultimately, State needs to strike
a better balance between protecting
information and encouraging activities in
the public domain. The pre-publication
review process remains too arbitrary,
lengthy and disjointed for most govern-
ment professionals to share their unique
experiences and expertise with the
American public.
Still, despite the bureaucratic chal-
lenges I faced, it is pretty incredible that
the U.S. government allowed a young
diplomat to write a detailed—and some-
times critical —narrative about sensitive
military and intelligence operations that
occurred only 12 years ago in an ongoing
conflict. In fact, I do not think that any
other government in the world would
allow that sort of liberty.
But that is the United States of Amer-
ica at its best, and just one more reason I
am so proud to represent it.
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