Since President Donald Trump took office in January, thousands of government records that were previously public have gone offline—from a massive database of records on animal welfare at the Department of Agriculture to climate change data across the government.
The move has confirmed some of the worst fears of scientists who raced to back up government data on climate change ahead of Trump’s inauguration. Those efforts have archived terabytes worth of data on private servers. But government records on everything from labor violations to animal welfare are still at risk of being taken offline or destroyed altogether.
That’s why ThinkProgress is launching Disappearing Data, a project to recover government data that’s been taken offline.
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.
We’ll FOIA new websites and datasets as they go offline. And we 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
HHS.gov and Healthcare.gov websites
On February 9, the Washington Examiner reported that the Department of Health and Human Services had scrubbed favorable language about the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” from its agency website and from Healthcare.gov. That language include descriptions of consumers’ rights and benefits under the ACA, according to a letter that Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in mid-February.
“The department’s decision to strip the website of basic information about healthcare coverage will leave many Americans in the dark as they try to make informed healthcare decisions,” the senators wrote.
ThinkProgress filed a FOIA request on June 2 for snapshots of HHS.gov and Healthcare.gov as they existed on January 19, 2017. We are waiting on the department to acknowledge our request and assign it a case number.
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.
“The Office of Public Affairs had received complaints from the workforce regarding the release of their direct contact information and the disruption to their operations as a result of outside personnel reaching out directly vice working through the appropriate channels,” agency spokesperson Shelley Laver told Mashable in an email.
ThinkProgress filed a FOIA request for the phonebook on May 17. DOE is processing our request under case number FOIA-HQ-2017–01112-F and has agreed to provide us with responsive records.
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.
ThinkProgress filed a FOIA request on May 17 for the most recent data.gov data inventory and the data.gov data inventory created closest to January 20. GSA processed the request under case number GSA-2017–001029, and o n July 17, the agency provided us with two metadata inventories. By comparing them, we hope to identify any missing data sets.
BLM 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.
“All that research is essentially off the boards, for now,” George Washington University environmental law professor Robert Glicksman told The Post.
ThinkProgress filed a FOIA request for a snapshot of the BLM website on May 15. BLM is processing our request under case number 2017–00609.
EPA Open Data Website
On April 23, Bernadette Hyland, CEO of data tech company and EPA contractor Three Round Stones, wrote a blog post claiming the agency had contacted her and other contractors telling them to prepare to take the EPA Open Data Website offline ahead of a potential government shutdown.
In response, EPA tweeted that “rumors about the website opendata.epa.gov are wrong” and that it’s “not going anywhere.” Hyland later updated her post to say EPA had backtracked on taking the site down, pending funding from Congress.
ThinkProgress filed a FOIA request for a snapshot of the Open Data Website on April 24. EPA processed the request under case number EPA-HQ-2017–006464 but rejected it, claiming we did not properly describe the records we were seeking. We appealed that decision, and EPA rejected our appeal on June 15. We’re working to re-file the request.
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.
ThinkProgress filed a FOIA request for several climate-related EPA website on January 25. In response to this and similar requests, EPA publicly posted a snapshot of its website as it existed on January 19.
USDA Animal Care Information System
On February 3, BuzzFeed reported that the Department of Agriculture had taken its Animal Care Information System offline in response to a long-running lawsuit. The massive system contained troves of information on animal research, training, and breeding, including government enforcement actions.
“My initial thought is that they intend to make it harder for people to get the information because of the negative repercussions,” Joanne Zurlo of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing told BuzzFeed at the time.
When BuzzFeed and National Geographic filed FOIA requests for information on USDA’s decision to take the data offline, they got thousands of completely blacked-out pages in response. Meanwhile, USDA has begun to return some (but not all) of the data to its website, and several animal rights groups have filed suit to get the data back online.
ThinkProgress filed a FOIA request for an archive of the Animal Care Information System on February 3. USDA still searching for responsive records. The case number is 2017-APHIS-02191-F.