disappearing data

Disappearing data: A Trump administration vanishing act

Where has all the data gone? Since the Trump wrecking crew took over, government data has been disappearing at an alarming rate. At first, it was a massive database at the Department of Agriculture that contained records on animal welfare. Then it was climate-change data. And then, there was much more, or should we say, much less.

“Thousands of government records that were previously public have gone offline, reports Think Progress, a progressive news site that covers “the intersections between politics, policy, culture and social justice.”

Fortunately, Think Progress has been paying attention, and in May 2017, it launched the Disappearing Data Project, an effort designed to recover government data that’s been taken offline. Here’s how Think Progress describes the initiative:

We’ve already filed Freedom of Information Act requests for six disappeared websites. And we’ve already scored a victory: In response to requests by ThinkProgress and others, the Environmental Protection Agency posted a snapshot of its website as it existed on January 19.

So, what exactly has gone AWOL [that we know of]? Think Progress chronicles the damage at several federal agencies:

Department of Energy phonebook

On February 16, Mashable reported that the Department of Energy had taken down its online phonebook, which made it easier for reporters and members of the public to directly contact agency staff.

GSA Data.gov data inventory

In a sweeping May 14 story on government data that has disappeared under the Trump administration, the Washington Post reported that the number of data sets available on data.gov dropped from 195,245 in February to 156,000 in April, then shot back up to 192,648 in mid-May.

Officials attributed the dramatic three-month decline to a technical error in handling data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to the Post. But the Post pointed to lingering confusion about what data disappeared, what data reappeared, and how they match up.

Bureau of Land Management data on climate change

On May 14, The Washington Post reported on the widespread disappearance of government data under the Trump administration, including hundreds of pages worth of ecological assessments by the Bureau of Land Management.

EPA climate websites

On January 24, Reuters reported that the Trump administration had ordered the EPA to remove information related to climate change from its website. “It’s just plain silly,” a member of the EPA transition team told ThinkProgress at the time, regarding the threatened destruction of climate data. “But there are some things you can’t fix, and silly is one of them.”

Three months later, on April 29, EPA announced that it was updating its website — changes that included taking down several pages related to climate change, according to The Washington Post.

Think Progress has filed Freedom of Information requests for the missing data at each agency and is awaiting responses. But the battle has just begun. Given what we have seen so far of the Trump administration’s allergic reaction to facts and to journalistic inquiries, the rate of data vaporization could increase. Think Progress plans to remain vigilant. The organization is even asking for  crowd-sourcing to help stay on top of the situation:

We’ll FOIA new websites and datasets as they go offline. And we’ll stay on top of the requests listed here until we make this data public again.

To do that, we’ll need your help. If you notice that government data has gone offline, email ThinkProgress reporter Joshua Eaton at jeaton@thinkprogress.org.