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National Security Archive Publishes Listings of
Unprocessed State Department Lot Files
Held at the National Archives

Historians Can Use Information to Help NARA Set 
Priorities for the Release of Important Collections

The Problem of Unprocessed State Department Lot Files

One of the major primary sources for research on the history of U.S. post-World War II foreign relations are the lot files of the Department of State.  These are either the files of particular offices--e.g., the country desk officer for Italy, 1947-50--or special files on a particular topic, e.g., Berlin crisis contingency planning, 1961-63.  Readers of the State Department's Foreign Relations series know that the lot files provide an important source for the editors at the Department's Historical Office.1  While the State Department central files--whether decimal or subject-numeric--are significant, the lot files enable researchers to delve far more deeply into their subject.

    During the mid-1990s, the National Archives released a plethora of lot files. To a great extent, these releases reflected the State Department's progress in reviewing for declassification important collections of materials from the 1950s and 60s, progress that was required under Congress's 30 years statute for the Department's records.  In the last few years, however, progress in releasing lot files has slowed considerably.  This is not because the State Department has delayed reviewing its own papers; far from it.  Departmental officials have continued to review the lot files, making decisions along the way about which documents need to be withdrawn on grounds of continuing sensitivity.   But the State Department does not have responsibility for final processing of the lot files: withdrawing the still-classified items and replacing them with the red-bordered pull sheets.  That job requires staffers with security clearances and the National Archives does not have enough of them to do the job.  Part of the reason is that the lot files are getting larger in size.  A more fundamental reason is staffing levels; NARA has pulled staffers away from State Department records per se for projects relating to the Interagency Working Group on world war II war crimes.  Whether the Archives will find ways to ensure appropriate levels of staffing for the lot files remains to be seen.  In the meantime, NARA has a backlog of over 250 lot files that still require final processing.2

     As a courtesy, concerned NARA officials have made available to the National Security Archive a set of the Standard Form-258s that describe the unprocessed lot files (SF-258s register the transfer of records from a federal agency to the Archives).  Each form is annotated with NARA's Accession Number or Job Number, the numbers that begin with "NN3."  For the most part, the forms are arranged according to the Department's functional and geographic divisions (e.g., Bureau of Intelligence and Research or Bureau of African Affairs), although one group includes the records of former officials, e.g., U.Alexis Johnson.  

    The National Security Archive is making these forms available on its web site so that historians and other researchers will have a more complete picture of NARA's holdings of State Department records.  Readers who are interested in the status of a particular lot file or want to urge early processing of some of these collections can write to the Initial Processing and Declassification Division, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, Maryland 20740-6001.


A Administration

AF African Affairs

ARA Inter-American Affairs

C The Counselor
CU Educational and Cultural Affairs

D Deputy Secretary of State

DS Diplomatic Security

E Undersecretary for Economic Affairs

EA East Asian and Pacific Affairs

EB Economic and Business Affairs

EUR European and Canadian Affairs

H Legislative Affairs

HA Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs

IGA Inspector General of Foreign Assistance

INM International Narcotics Matters

INR Intelligence and Research

IO International Organization Affairs

J/PM Deputy Assistant Secretary for Politico-Military Affairs

L Legal Adviser

Loyalty Security Board

M Under Secretary for Management 

NEA Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs

O Deputy Undersecretary for Management

OES Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs

P Under Secretary for Political Affairs

PA Public Affairs

PER Personnel

PM Politico-Military Affairs

RP Refugee Programs

S/CCT Special Assistant to the Secretary and Coordinator for Combating Terrorism

S/CPR Chief of Protocol

S/FW-COA Special Assistant to the Secretary for Fisheries and Wildlife and Coordinator of Ocean Affairs

S/P Policy Planning Staff

S/PRS Office of Press Relations

S/WF Coordinator of U.S. Participation in the World Food Conference

S/S Executive Secretariat 

SCA Security and Counselor Affairs

SCI International Scientific and Technological Affairs

T Undersecretary for Security Assistance

U Under Secretary of State


Task Forces and Committees


Foreign Service Posts


1.  For example, see the sources listed in
<http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/history/frusXXII/sources.html> or <http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/history/vol_xi/sources.html>.

2.  For discussion of this problem at a recent meeting of the U.S. State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, see <http://fas.org/sgp/advisory/state/hac1200.html>.

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