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Federal Election Commission (FEC) Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen announced his resignation today. Chalk up another federal agency unable to do its work. This is happening across the federal government. Many agency political appointments simply haven’t been nominated, while some, like Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)’s science division simply shut down because no staff have been hired; while others like USDA have sought to erode the agency’s work by forceably relocating its staff to places like Kansas City (and then cutting staff buyouts to boot!). This is disturbing to say the least.
Federal Election Commission Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen announced his resignation today.
This means the agency that enforces and regulates the nation’s campaign finance laws will effectively shut down — something that hasn’t happened since 2008 — because it won’t have the legal minimum of four commissioners to make high-level decisions.
Petersen’s resignation, first reported by the Washington Examiner, will throw the FEC into turmoil for weeks — and perhaps months — as the nation enters the teeth of 2020 presidential and congressional elections.
- For now, the FEC can’t conduct meetings.
- It can’t slap political scofflaws with fines.
- It can’t make rules.
- It can’t conduct audits and approve them.
- It can’t vote on the outcome of investigations.
And while staff will continue to post campaign finance reports and attend to day-to-day functions, the commission itself can’t offer official advice to politicians and political committees who seek it.
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.
And so it begins. The Trump administration is targeting government agencies which produce “politicized science” — or as most of us call it, “science”! — and will be looking to defund those agencies. This story from the Guardian focuses on NASA, but no doubt EPA, NOAA, and other agencies which work on climate change and other areas of scientific research that the Republican party thinks of as “politicized science” will be targeted for budget cuts and more. It’ll be interesting to analyze the 2016 End of Term .gov crawl to see just how many .gov sites fundamentally change or completely disappear in the coming months.
Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said.
Nasa’s Earth science division is set to be stripped of funding in favor of exploration of deep space, with the president-elect having set a goal during the campaign to explore the entire solar system by the end of the century.
This would mean the elimination of Nasa’s world-renowned research into temperature, ice, clouds and other climate phenomena. Nasa’s network of satellites provide a wealth of information on climate change, with the Earth science division’s budget set to grow to $2bn next year. By comparison, space exploration has been scaled back somewhat, with a proposed budget of $2.8bn in 2017.