Today’s post is written by Alan Walker, a processing archivist in Research Services.
Since 2010, the Record Group 286 Processing Team has been steadily transforming the 11,700 cubic feet of paper records of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) housed here at Archives II.
A lot of preparation goes into such a massive project (and most of our projects are massive!): proper identification of the records as to their offices of origin, the assemblage of proper accessioning documentation for the records, research into disposition authorities, and identifying and procuring the resources needed (staff and supplies). Then, to cap it off, there is the creation of many spreadsheets to organize and track all of this information. Our project lead, Alfie Paul, has been tireless in organizing this project and in moving it forward.
Planning for this project revealed that the records fall into two categories: those records produced at the headquarters level in Washington, DC (about 7,500 cubic feet), and records produced by the overseas missions of USAID (some 4,200 cubic feet). Each country in which USAID establishes development aid programs hosts a USAID mission, which is usually housed within or near the U.S. Embassy. Program officers and advisors of the mission work with the host country’s government ministries in establishing and monitoring aid programs and overseeing contractors and their projects. The records date from the mid-1940s to the 1990s, with the majority covering the 1960s and 1970s.
What’s in the Records?
Records of the USAID missions include correspondence and memorandums, directives from USAID Headquarters in the form of airgrams and telegrams, and reports and studies from program advisors regarding everything from USAID’s liaison with the host country to the status of specific projects. The records will relate to the administrative affairs of the mission itself (personnel, budgets, procurement) as well as to the funding and monitoring of aid projects. Here is a link to a description of a typical set of subject files for a USAID mission.
The missions also maintain case files on various aid projects, and forward these case files back to USAID Headquarters, where they are maintained by that mission’s parent regional bureau. But bear in mind that project case files produced by the missions have a finite life span, as indicated in USAID’s records schedule (meaning that they are disposed of after a certain period of time has passed); so you will not find a project file for every project ever undertaken by USAID or its predecessors. However, project case files produced and maintained by the Headquarters bureaus are classified as permanent records. From these you will find much of the same information about aid projects, since the missions forwarded copies of these project records to their parent bureaus.
These records can be a valuable source of information on where our overseas aid dollars go (or don’t go). And they document the delicate relationship between the U.S. Government and foreign governments. You might find a report from a program advisor detailing the misuse of funds or damage to foodstuffs, or a memo from a mission official recounting a frustrating meeting with a foreign government ministry representative. And the records illustrate the necessary procedures, routines, and regulations by which the U.S. Government operates through its intrepid emissaries of the Foreign Service.
Beginning in early 2011, we began processing the Overseas Missions records in earnest. Thus far we have completed (or nearly completed) processing the records for 47 missions of the total of 85 missions we have identified. In my next post I will outline the challenges we have encountered in processing these records, and how we are transforming them into the records you request and use today.