By HELEN DALRYMPLE
Sixty years have passed since the predecessor of today’s Federal Research Division (FRD), the Air Research Unit, was established by Librarian of Congress Luther H. Evans as part of the Library’s Aeronautics Division on March 5, 1948. Its purpose, Evans said, was to provide “certain research services to the United States Air Force in connection with the collections of the Library and with other materials available to the Library.”
The basic mission of FRD has not changed a great deal, although it is now more precisely defined. It states: “The Federal Research Division provides directed research and analysis on domestic and international subjects to agencies of the United States Government, the District of Columbia, and authorized federal contractors. As expert users of the vast English and foreign-language collections of the Library of Congress, the division’s area and subject specialists employ the resources of the world’s largest library and information sources worldwide to produce impartial and comprehensive studies on a cost-recovery basis.”
It is clear from today’s mission statement that FRD’s client base has greatly expanded from the early days when it served only the Air Force. In 2007, for example, FRD supported 43 clients in 34 different offices in 13 cabinet-level departments and independent federal agencies, along with four internal Library of Congress offices. Eight of those were clients new to FRD; they included the National Agricultural Library, the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves and the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division, among others.
Because of its dependence on only a few defense-related agencies for many years, the history of FRD until recently has been fairly volatile—with rapid expansions of staff and workload when the agencies providing support had money to spend, and then reduced workload and layoffs of personnel when budgetary resources shrank.
The establishment of the Air Research Unit at the Library of Congress in 1948 was a move that made sense at the time, because the Library of Congress held major collections of aeronautical periodicals and technical reports, as well as captured German and Japanese aviation documents that had come to the Library after World War II. The exploitation and analysis of these unique Library collections could be valuable to the United States during the uncertainties of the emerging Cold War, and the Air Force wanted to make use of them.
The work of the unit built up quickly. On July 22, 1948, it was made a full-fledged division—the Air Research Division—in the Reference Department (forerunner of today’s Collections and Services Directorate). It was renamed again on Jan. 17, 1949, as the Air Studies Division, and by Sept. 30 of that year had a staff of 98 people. In addition to its services to the outside agencies, the division fulfilled a significant internal Library function: it paid for subject and descriptive catalogers who worked on the Slavic Union Catalog and on other materials of specific interest to the Air Force.
Recruitment for the new unit had not been easy, though, according to the Librarian’s 1949 Annual Report. “One of the Personnel Division’s principal problems has been to find properly qualified candidates to perform highly technical work in the Air Studies Division. … It had to discover reliable men and women who had not only been trained in science but were well-versed in languages and reasonably familiar with librarianship.”
Performing specific research for outside clients was not a new activity for the Library in 1948, because the Legislative Reference Service (now the Congressional Research Service) had been doing research exclusively for members of Congress since it was created in 1914. What was new about the Air Studies Division was the fact that it was providing direct services to an agency in the executive branch of the federal government on a fee-for-service basis, even though it was part of the legislative branch.
Additional responsibilities and separation of functions in 1951 led to a split of the Air Studies Division into two units: the Air Research Division and the Air Information Division, both still funded by the Air Force. The Air Information Division, which was renamed the Aerospace Information Division in 1962 and then the Aerospace Technology Division (ATD) in 1963, prepared abstracts and bibliographies of scientific and technical articles from foreign publications in the Library’s collections. These were made available to industry and the scientific community through the Department of Commerce.
The Library’s Air Research Division (later FRD) was renamed the Defense Research Division (DRD) on Sept. 10, 1963, after Air Force research requirements and funding were reassigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Its mission of performing science and technology research continued, according to Robert Worden, former chief of FRD, “but the nature of the work being performed broadened as DRD began serving all three armed services on a nearly global basis. New work also included ‘quick response’ work to assist DIA’s ‘crisis demands.’”
The other Library division funded by Defense, the Aerospace Technology Division, had continued its work of screening hundreds of scientific and technical journals and preparing abstracts of selected articles. ATD staff also prepared annotated bibliographies and state-of-the-art studies for the Defense Department as well as compiling specialized glossaries and dictionaries to facilitate translation efforts.
The two divisions thrived and expanded during the 1960s, and their staffs grew to the point that the two Library of Congress buildings on Capitol Hill became pressed for space to house them. ATD relocated to renovated offices in the upper deck areas of the Jefferson Building. DRD and several other Library units moved to rental space at 214 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., several blocks away, in September 1967. By the end of fiscal year 1968, DRD had a staff of 229 people and a budget of almost $2.9 million.
All of this activity came to an abrupt halt in 1969-1970, when government-wide budget cuts caused a major reduction in force among the Library’s reimbursable programs. The Defense Research Division survived, but the Aerospace Technology Division was abolished.
In 1970, the Defense Research Division was renamed the Federal Research Division, the name it still holds today, and strong efforts were undertaken to broaden its mandate and expand its client base to ensure its survival. Its staff had fallen from 279 to 113. New research programs for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Naval Scientific and Technological Information Center and the Environmental Protection Agency were undertaken in the following years, with a resulting resurgence in funding and staff for the division, which had relocated from Massachusetts Avenue to the Navy Yard in August 1982. New interagency agreements were also developed with several Department of Defense organizations during the early and mid-1980s, some of which involved classified research, and FRD took over the Army-funded Area Handbook/Country Studies Series program from American University in 1986.
In the late 1980s, another monetary crisis hit FRD when the budget of the Defense Intelligence Agency was cut drastically. Again FRD’s staff was cut, this time to 35 people, and the division began a vigorous marketing effort to expand its client base from two or three large defense sponsors to a mix of more medium-sized and small accounts. These included many of the executive departments as well as federal agencies such as Social Security, the Postal Service and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. This effort continues today.
In 1994, FRD moved from the Navy Yard to the Buzzard Point Annex at 1900 Half Street S.W. Asked how the division dealt with working in locations so far removed from the Library’s collections, which the staff used heavily in their research, Worden wrote: “Offsite work sites were the norm for much of DRD/FRD’s existence. … FRD funded a shuttle service and driver/courier to haul materials and people to and from FRD to the Library and to client agencies. There was always at least one person (sometimes more) assigned to an FRD enclave in Adams or Jefferson to fetch and charge books, serials, etc. Other FRD annex staff spent lots of their time roaming around the libraries of other agencies collecting materials, books, serials, maps and photos.”
Sandra Meditz, head of FRD’s Production and Management Support Section, added: “We did a lot of walking. I’m sure I was not alone in finding the walk across the Hill from Massachusetts Avenue enjoyable. I can’t say the same for the walk from the Navy Yard Annex.”
The Federal Research Division returned to the Adams Building on Capitol Hill in December 1996 with 45 staff members, almost 30 years after it had left in 1967. Soon after the move, bad budget news hit again. Revenue shortfalls in two successive years, 1997-1998, led to a downsizing of the staff to only 14 permanent employees, an all-time low. Research was carried on with extensive help from contract and overtime employees in other Library offices.
Unlike other units in the Library, FRD receives no appropriated funds. All of its functions are paid for with funds received as a result of agreements with other agencies, most of which are outside the Library. Passage of the Library of Congress Fiscal Operations Improvement Act of 2000, which took effect on Oct. 1, 2001, has helped to stabilize the fiscal operations of the Federal Research Division. It gave FRD (and six other Library units, including FEDLINK, Retail Sales and Photoduplication) the authority to establish a revolving fund in the U.S. Treasury and to deposit funds transferred from other federal agencies without fiscal year limitation. This allows FRD to perform its research functions and to manage its finances on a more reliable basis, according to Worden. Funds transferred to the revolving fund remain on account until expended for current- and future-year research.
The Work of the Federal Research Division
As of fiscal year 2005, when it entered into an interagency agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the division has carried out research for every one of the federal government’s Cabinet-level departments as well as many of the independent agencies of the executive branch.
“One of the most significant aspects of FRD is the scope of its activity,” said David Osborne, head of FRD’s Research Section. “We’ve done disability research, research on alien smuggling and human trafficking, histories of federal agencies and programs, and detailed country studies on more than a hundred nations around the world.”
Also critical, according to Osborne, is the close association that FRD has had throughout its history with U.S. defense and intelligence agencies. Although the division no longer does classified research, some of its staff still have security clearances, can receive classified briefings and use classified documents for research offsite. Because of its foreign-language expertise and its long experience dealing with intelligence issues, the division is still an important player in the intelligence field, especially in dealing with open-source materials, Osborne said. Just over 50 percent of FRD’s clients come from the defense and intelligence agencies.
All FRD researchers are required to be proficient in one or more foreign languages; their capabilities cover some 25 different languages, from Arabic, Bulgarian and Chinese to Hindi, Korean, Polish, and Serbo-Croatian. FRD analysts are trained in a wide range of disciplines, including area studies, social sciences, physical sciences, information science, and law. They work closely with other divisions in the Library, especially the Law Library and other foreign area specialists, and make heavy use of the Library’s foreign language collections. If a new project requires a skill that is not available in-house, FRD will hire an expert consultant to assist with the work.
Senior project managers oversee all of the work performed for outside agencies. They coordinate the overall effort, provide the principal interface with the agency, see that deadlines are met, and review the completed research, before handing over the product to the division’s editorial staff for further review and editing. All of the work that FRD does is proprietary to the agency that requests it; it is given out to others or placed on the division’s Web site only with the permission of the originating agency.
Federal Research Division Products
FRD’s most recent catalog of studies and reports, “Access to a World of Information,” includes a listing of more than 500 products it has prepared since 1974. It is one of the tools that Jane Garten, FRD’s marketing liaison, uses to solicit new interagency agreements for the division.
Country Studies and Country Profiles
Funded by the U.S. Army from 1953 until 1998 for training of and use by military personnel overseas, the Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national-security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world. In 1986, FRD took over the task of producing the country studies from American University. Published by the Government Printing Office, the country studies were the first works by FRD to receive broad public distribution. They were—and still are—extremely popular.
FRD has prepared more than 100 studies of countries all over the world, from Albania to Zaire. Most of them are online. The site averages approximately 500,000 searches per month, attesting to the series’ popularity.
“The country studies are unique in the breadth and depth of analytical coverage they provide for a general audience in both the public and private sectors,” said Sandra Meditz, who has directed the project since 1989.
The series is highly valued by the library community. At one time, almost all depository libraries selected this title to include in their collections, and the American Library Association lobbied hard to have the program continued when it became apparent in 1998 that the Army was going to discontinue it. The series has also been widely acknowledged by military commanders and policy makers as a reliable source of in-depth background information on areas of the world that are important and of growing interest to U.S. national security.
“In times of immediate need, copies of recently published or even draft manuscripts of country studies have been distributed to U.S. troops during overseas deployments,” said Meditz.
Two more country studies—Cuba and a combined volume on the Dominican Republic and Haiti—were published in 2002, funded by the U.S. Southern Command. New funds were provided in the 2004 Defense Appropriations bill to continue the country series publication program at the urging of Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), and five new studies were initiated by FRD (Colombia, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea and Sudan). They are all nearing completion. Unfortunately, the series has not received the continued annual funding envisioned, without which further updating of existing editions in the series will not be possible.
Related to the country studies are the country profiles—brief summaries on a country’s historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. Introduced in 2005, approximately 50 country profiles are accessible online. The profiles are featured in the front matter of the published country studies volumes, but expanded versions are also prepared as stand-alone reference aids that can be updated online as needed.
Under an interagency agreement with the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, FRD began developing the POW/MIA database in the early 1990s. Its purpose was to index and microfilm declassified documents relating to unaccounted-for Vietnam-era American personnel.
What began as a searchable database on a dedicated computer in the Computer Catalog Center in the Jefferson Building became an online database accessible on the Internet when the Library was searching for more content for its developing Web site.
“That was a huge innovation,” said Osborne, “because those individuals who are interested in unaccounted-for Americans could research names, places, dates, etc. from anywhere and request the documents on microfilm through their local libraries. They no longer had to travel to the Library of Congress to use the database.”
Each year FRD adds documents to this site, which averages about 30,000 searches a month. It can be found online.
A major report prepared by FRD, “Domestic Trends to the Year 2015: Forecasts for the United States,” (PDF, 11.46 MB) has been one of its most frequently requested studies since it was completed in 1991. Prepared by eight FRD specialists, the report analyzes trends and agents of change in the areas of demography, the economy, natural resources, education, technology, and geopolitics and threat. Many of its predictions have been borne out in the years since it was prepared.
A particularly apt forecast was made in that report by Osborne as one of the “key judgments” in the area of geopolitics and threat: “Former ‘client’ states, most of which are located in the developing world, are well-armed and equipped, and may pose security threats to the developed world. These potential regional hegemons will feel free to pursue their own goals. Recognizing that ideology, religion, and territory still play significant roles in relations between countries, the world is entering upon a very unsettled time.”
In the aftermath of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, an FRD report prepared in 1999 came to the media’s attention. “The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?” predicted that such a horrific event might occur.
FRD author Rex Hudson had written: “Al-Qaida’s expected retaliation for the U.S. cruise missile attack against al-Qaida’s training facilities in Afghanistan on August 20, 1998, could take several forms of terrorist attack in the nation’s capital. … Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida’s Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House.”
After 9/11, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington had asked FRD to put the three terrorism studies it had prepared on its Web site (with approval from the agencies that commissioned the reports). One of them was Hudson’s report. Five months later, in May 2002, a reporter in Illinois picked up on it. It was not long before FRD’s Web site was flooded with hits, and press inquiries started coming into the Library from around the world. The division suddenly found itself the subject of unprecedented media attention.
“The media reports on the division’s study gained the attention of the White House, members of Congress, and key federal agency managers as well as network and cable news anchors, talk show hosts and others,” noted the division’s 2002 annual report. The heightened awareness of the division’s capabilities had a positive side as well: it resulted in additional requests for research and analysis from other federal agencies. Fourteen reports that focus on terrorism and the connection among narcotics traffickers, terrorists and other extremist groups, and organized crime are now publicly available.
The Federal Research Division’s Military Legal Resources Web site was launched in 2003 at the request of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School Library in Charlottesville, Va. The center acts as executive agent for the Department of Defense for military lawyers, judges and civilian authorities. The Web site is used heavily by military lawyers, legal journalists, legal scholars, and law professors, including those dealing with the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the detention and adjudication of prisoners, as well as by both the defense and prosecution of U.S. military personnel accused of crimes and misconduct. The site has become increasingly popular, recording almost 600,000 visits in February 2008, double that of the previous year.
Documents now on the site (totaling nearly 1,100) include historical documents from the Indian Wars, the Civil War, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as the Military Law Review (1958-2007) and The Army Lawyer (1971-2007). The condition of some of these early documents was quite poor, and FRD specialists Roberta Goldblatt and Katarina David had to work with them to make them text-searchable online. A comprehensive legislative history of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and selected historical editions of the Manual for Courts-Martial have also been added to the site by FRD over the years.
“I have often wanted, in the course of research on the Nazi regime, to peruse the German-language documents … at length, but been deterred, except in a few vital cases, by the crumbling orange pages of the original volumes,” wrote an American professor at the London School of Economics, complimenting FRD on its Military Legal Resources Web site. “But now these materials will be constantly and widely available. … As an American living and working abroad, I often have reason to take pride in my country’s institutions—but rarely more so than in the case of the Library of Congress.”
“Over time,” said David Osborne recently, “the FRD site has become known as a secure and ‘neutral’ location for agencies to make their reports available to the public. For example, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness opted to post the Military Compensation Background Papers, 6th edition, which we compiled, on the FRD site to avoid printing thousands of copies for distribution and to make it available to the world.” It can be found on the Web at www.loc.gov/rr/frd/mil-comp.html.
A new publication, “History of the U.S. Army Battle Command Training Program, 1986-2003,” was co-authored by FRD staff members Osborne and Priscilla Offenhauer. Published in 2007, the volume explains the development of the Army’s program, which was created in 1987 at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to use battle simulation to train commanders and their staff. It provides stressful and realistic combined-arms training in a rigorous combat environment.
To prepare the study, Offenhauer and Osborne visited Fort Leavenworth to view historical documents and observed a fighting exercise at Fort Stewart, Ga. They also interviewed veteran commanders of the Battle Command Training Program, including retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark.
Gen. David Petraeus, current commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq, praised the book, saying it was a significant contribution to the history of the Army. “Offenhauer’s and Osborne’s meticulous research takes the reader through the Battle Command Training Program’s birth, growth, and ultimate validation on the battlefield, and this makes for a fascinating story,” wrote Petraeus on the back cover of the volume. “Enormously rich in detail and written with a novelist’s style, this narrative explains how the Battle Command Training Program has made, and will continue to make such an enormously positive impact on America’s Army.”
The Federal Research Division often contributes to larger studies for a federal agency, which was the case of their work last year for the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves. Created by Congress in 2005, the purpose of the commission was to conduct a comprehensive review and make recommendations for the future. FRD did nine studies for the commission, all of them in 2007. They ranged from a look at historical attempts to reorganize the reserve components to comparisons of pay and benefits. The final report, “Commission on the National Guard and Reserves: Transforming the National Guard and Reserves into a 21st Century Operational Force,” was made to Congress on Jan. 31, 2008. At the January press conference when the report was released, the chairman of the commission, Arnold Punaro, thanked the Library of Congress, as well as other agencies, for their assistance.
Today’s Federal Research Division (FRD) is very much the offspring of the Air Research/Air Studies Division, but it has greatly expanded its client base over the years and is now on a more stable budgetary footing. In fiscal year 2007, for example, the division’s total revenue was about $6 million, about half of which was budgeted for expenses during the year. This allowed about $3 million to be carried forward to fund its work in fiscal year 2008.
FRD currently employs a staff of 60, including about 20 people in permanent positions as well as contractors and temporary workers.
A number of factors have come together in the past few decades to make the work of the Federal Research Division much more widely known than it was in the past. The first was FRD’s assumption of responsibility for producing the Country Studies Series and the second was the availability of FRD’s products on Internet.
“The division’s Web site at www.loc.gov/rr/frd/ is now probably its most effective marketing tool, with some of its most popular products accessed hundreds of thousands of times each year,” said Jeremy Adamson, chief of the Collection and Services Directorate in Library Services.
“The Internet has definitely put the Federal Research Division before the public in a way that was not possible in years past,” said Osborne. “Both the country studies and the POW/MIA database were very popular in the 1990s. Today the studies and the various other online products have kept FRD in the public eye more than in its previous four or five decades of service.”
Helen Dalrymple is a retired Library employee and the former editor of the Library of Congress Information Bulletin.