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A War on Data

Engadget makes the case that the Trump administration is waging a "war on data." It says that, although removal and manipulation of existing data are a concern, the biggest threat to data is budgetary.

The administration seems focused on two avenues of attack: One, make data harder to find, and two, slash funding until collecting data becomes difficult for government agencies.

Defunding agencies and programs that collect data doesn’t just mask potential problems within the government and harm our ability to make informed decisions — it provides useful political cover for even deeper budget cuts down the road.

The article gives several examples of how the administration is damaging access to the accurate information that citizens require to evaluate government programs and that elected officials require to govern wisely.

  • In mid-February the Trump administration scrubbed open.whitehouse.gov of datasets created under the Obama administration. Although a NARA-created archive of the data exists, there is no clear link to it on whitehouse.gov, there are discrepancies between the file sizes and metadata hosted by the NARA and those pulled by third parties before the data was archived, and developer tools and APIs are broken.

  • Some of the parts of whitehouse.gov that disappeared on inauguration day still contain nothing more than a promise that they’ll be updated. The White House failed to respond to repeated requests for a timeline on those updates.

  • Important staff positions, such as the CIO and chief digital officer remain unfilled and the White House has given no indication it plans to fill them any time soon (if at all). This means that "an entire data infrastructure system" is atrophying.
  • To the alarm of many career staff in the US Trade Representative’s office, the administration is considering changing how it calculates the trade deficit in a way that would make the deficit appear larger.

  • The Budget Blueprint proposes slashing funding for agencies that collect data including those that study climate change.

  • The administration has not answered questions about its commitment (or lack of commitment) to open data initiatives.

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