It’s a good thing all those scientists scrambled to preserve publicly funded data before Trump took office in January. As The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin reported on Sunday, the Trump White House has “removed or tucked away a wide variety of information that until recently was provided to the public, limiting access, for instance, to disclosures about workplace violations, energy efficiency, and animal welfare abuses.”
The information purged from federal government websites so far is wide-ranging. In its tally, the Post cites information about animal welfare abusers that has disappeared from the Agriculture Department website and information about monetary penalties that is no longer publicized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The Post also cites less-traditional types of data that has vanished, such as White House visitor logs and scientifically accurate information about climate change on the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department websites. Documents about Obama-era White House policies have been removed, as has the Federal Supplier Greenhouse Gas Management Scorecard, which ranks government contractors on their climate friendliness. Nearly 40,000 data sets have also gone missing, according to the Post.
Michael Halpern, the deputy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’s Center for Science and Democracy, said some of the purges are a matter of accountability—not having White House visitor logs, for example, or the fact that the Department of Energy no longer publicizes its phone book. “These efforts reduce faith in government by making it less accessible,” he told me. And it’s not just data purges. “The EPA’s science office hasn’t posted a blog post since the day before the inauguration,” he said. “Not only is data access being reduced, the people who produce the data are less able to communicate about their work. And it’s a lot easier to dismantle government agencies if they are prevented from communicating how their work protects public health and safety.”
The disappearance of federal government information is unprecedented, Halpern said, but only because so much information has been made public and accessible online in the last decade. Now, he fears some information-gathering pathways are starting to move backward, to the days when members of the public had to trek to libraries or file FOIA requests to access public information.