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This is yet another disturbing example of data loss documented by our friends at MuckRock. Evidently, a large amount of data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) having to do with the infamous Enron Corporation has gone missing and even FERC staff do not know where it went.
How many examples will we need to post before libraries and archives get with the program and try and figure out ways to collect, archive, preserve and give access to born-digital information posted on .gov sites? And how does this particular example of data loss NOT happen again in the brave new world of open government data (aka H.R. 4174 the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 which was recently signed into law and described by Alex Howard)? If you’re as concerned as I am, you’ll contact FERC and request a copy of their data for your library.
Government investigations into California’s electricity shortage, ultimately determined to be caused by intentional market manipulations and capped retail electricity prices by the now infamous Enron Corporation, resulted in terabytes of information being collected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This included several extremely large databases, some of which had nearly 200 million rows of data, including Enron’s bidding and price processes, their trading and risk management systems, emails, audio recordings, and nearly 100,000 additional documents. That information has quietly disappeared, and not even its custodians seem to know why…
…While terabytes of information has disappeared, up to 4,516 documents remain available through a pair of predefined searches of FERC’s eLibrary. While FERC claims that they, not Lockheed Martin or CACI, do offer a trio of Enron datasets on CD, FERC has not responded to repeated requests for these datasets sent over the past two months.
Here’s a good article from Time Magazine — “Here’s What the EPA’s Website Looks Like After a Year of Climate Change Censorship” — which accurately reports how the Trump Administration and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have changed, skewed or deleted government information from the EPA Website for crass political purposes. For more in-depth analysis of the issue of information scrubbing from federal websites, one should look to the work of the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) and especially their reports: “Changing the Digital Climate” and “The EPA Under Siege”.
According to former government officials and EPA staffers, the level of scrutiny is without precedent. In the hands of an administration that has eschewed facts for their alternative cousins, the agency’s site is increasingly unmoored from its scientific core.
“In my experience, new administrations might come in and change the appearance of an agency website or the way they present information, but this is an unprecedented attempt to delete or bury credible scientific information they find politically inconvenient,” Heather Zichal, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, and previously President Barack Obama’s top White House adviser on energy and climate change, tells TIME.
The EPA’s site is now riddled with missing links, redirecting pages and buried information. Over the past year, terms like “fossil fuels”, “greenhouse gases” and “global warming” have been excised. Even the term “science” is no longer safe.
Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA Administrator under George W. Bush, says the overhaul is “to such an extreme degree that [it] undermines the credibility of the site”…
Of the more than 25,000 web pages tracked by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) since Trump’s election, they say the EPA’s have been hit hardest. One section, which provided local communities with resources for combating climate change, disappeared for months only to resurface heavily redacted, including just 175 of its 380 pages.
This is definitely bad. Government data collection has always been political and driven by legislative requirements. The FBI has published uniform crime reports since 1930. but FiveThrirtyEight’s report about missing data in the 2016 FBI Crime Report is a new and troubling turn of events. The Trump administration is just ignoring long standing data collection and publication for blatantly political reasons. According to the report, approximately 70% of the tables from the FBI’s most important crime report have been taken offline. For example, there were 51 tables of arrest data in the 2015 report, and there are only seven in the 2016 report.
The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) curates and archives this data for the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). In fact, I’m told it’s usually the most downloaded data from their site. But they can’t collect and archive what’s not there. Hopefully someone will FOIA the FBI for the missing data, but get ready to have to explain to our users about data gaps across the US government from 2016 – 2020. 😐
These removals mean that there is less data available concerning a perennial focus of Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions: violent crime. Trump and Sessions have frequently talked about MS-13, a gang with Salvadoran roots, as a looming problem in the country. MS-13 has been cited in 37 Department of Justice press releases and speeches in 2017, compared to only nine mentions in 2016 and five in 2015. Sessions gave a speech on the organization last month, while Trump gave a speech on Long Island in July, saying the gang had “transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields. They’re animals.” Trump also frequently refers to gun violence in Chicago, and at the beginning of his presidency, he established a Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office, which aims to study and promote awareness of crimes committed by immigrants who entered the country illegally.
Although the removal of the tables makes it more difficult to get information on one of the White House’s most prominent causes, it also seems like part of a trend in the Trump administration: the suppression of government data and an unwillingness to share information with the press and public. About two weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the FEMA website stopped displaying key metrics relating to island residents’ access to drinkable water and electricity. The data was later restored. The early days of the Trump administration were marked by reports that federal agency employees had been instructed not to talk to the press and to restrict social media postings.
Since Trump took office, government watchdog groups have been concerned about access to government data and maintaining the integrity of that data.