A Bureaucrat’s Cautionary Tale: Ignore Academic Advisory Committees at Your Peril!

by Peter Spiro

Advisory committees are usually makeweight undertakings, supplying a crumbs-from-the-table kind of federal patronage. Not much work required of committee members to correspond with the associated level of prestige and compensation. For insiders, it must usually be a minor sort of bother. Brief outside “experts” on latest developments, make them feel in the loop, go back to work; repeat on a quarterly basis.

Not so the advisory committee to the Historian of the Department of State. Working from a statutory mandate to advise the office with respect to the publication of the Foreign Relations of the United States (see background from my earlier post here), the committee set in motion a chain of events which resulted in personal engagement on the part of a lameduck Condi Rice, an Inspector General’s investigation and now with Historian Marc Susser’s “transfer” out of the office. For the full story, see here and here; when was the last time an advisory committee rated a Talk piece in the New Yorker?

Susser treated the committee as an irritation; I bet he’s kicking himself now. The committee is composed of academics, mostly diplomatic historians (Roger Louis of the University of Texas, the longtime now-former chairman, and Tom Schwartz of Vanderbilt, who was pushed out by Susser, deserve a lot of credit for the developments). Granted, the historian’s office is an unusual one, a quasi-academic unit in a policymaking bureaucracy, but the episode demonstrates utility from unexpected quarters.


One Response

  1. Now that’s an interesting field of inquiry Prof. Spiro. I was thinking today about the history of diplomacy.

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