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38

JUNE 2016

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

DIPLOMATIC

HISTORY LESSONS:

A Model of Government

Transparency

Tracy Whittington is a Foreign Service officer currently

working in the Office of the Historian. She has previous-

ly served in the Director General’s Policy Coordination

Office, the Operations Center, La Paz, Montreal and

Kinshasa. She is a member of the FSJ Editorial Board.

I

n a restored Navy hospital dormitory on the hill

across from the Harry S Truman building more than

40 Ph.D. historians are at work on the largest and

most productive documentary history program in the

world. They and their predecessors stretching back

to 1861 have compiled 562 volumes of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, provid

-

ing half a million pages of declassified government

documents to Congress, scholars and the general

public.

Today the Historian’s Office serves vital policymaking

needs within the department, providing just-in-time history to

bureaus and officers around the world, in addition to making

available to the broader public a treasure-trove of declassified

documents and historical diplomatic information of record

in the form of the FRUS volumes, as well as extensive digital

resources at the office’s website,

history.state.gov.

With the

Foreign Relations of the United States

series,

the State Department Office of the Historian provides policymakers

and the public a thorough record of American foreign policy.

BY TRACY WH I TT I NGTON

The office’s mandate is significant: to provide a “thorough,

accurate, reliable” official record of U.S. foreign policy. Although

many countries have some process for documenting govern-

ment foreign policy decisions, the FRUS program is the gold

standard—the oldest, most comprehensive and most formal-

ized. Indeed, FRUS provides a model of responsible government

transparency and accessibility that has endured through more

than 150 years of political change, hot and cold wars, and not

infrequent institutional or partisan efforts to interfere with it.

Policy Accountability: A Brief History

Decades before the Bureau of Public Affairs and the Bureau

of Legislative Affairs were a twinkling in the eye of the Secretary

of State, the department’s annual bound submission to Con-

gress of the previous year’s foreign policy documents fulfilled

both bureaus’ missions. As per its constitutional obligation

(Article II, Section 3), the country’s executive branch informed

the legislative branch of its foreign policy actions.

FRUS also informed the general public. Until the early 1900s,

newspapers from the

San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin

to

The New York Times

covered this release to Congress of contem-

porary sensitive diplomatic cables, department instructions to

the field and even documents originating from foreign govern-

FEATURE