The phrase “knowledge is power” was once made popular by the television series “School House Rock.” However, since January 20, a great deal of information to power that knowledge has disappeared from government websites.
A new Washington Post report finds that since President Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, the number of data sets available on data.gov has diminished by nearly 40,000. By and large, the information removed by the Trump administration appears to be data sets that are unfavorable to the president's policies.
Under the Obama administration, the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency ran websites that provided information from scientists regarding global climate change. Under the current administration, those websites have vanished.
Information from the Department of Agriculture has also disappeared recently, including data on animal welfare cases such as enforcement records for crimes of illegal dog breeding and crime records against “soring” horses.
Reducing the amount of information released to the public has become somewhat of a trend in the Trump administration.
The Trump administration has ended the practice of placing certain ethics waivers online. These waivers include information about appointees coming to work for the government who may have recent lobbying activity. Trump's team has also stopped publishing the White House visitors logs. Without them, the American people, in many ways, are in the dark about whom the president and his top advisors are meeting.
The White House received criticism for this latter move, which White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended, saying, “This is the policy that's existed from the beginning of time since they were kept.” However, it is actually a reversal of policy from the previous administration.
Trump administration officials also defended the executive branch's actions in removing the large number of data sets telling the Post, “The President has made a commitment that his administration will absolutely follow the law and disclose any information it is required to disclose.”
However, critics of the move say the administration is trying to throw “Harry Potter's cloak of invisibility” over the entire administration.
Overall, the Trump administration's move in terms of the change in the amount of data released is certainly strategic. While data experts say that some data could be removed due to consolidation, the fact that such a large amount has been reduced was surely not an accident.
Additionally, the reduction of data shows a difference of philosophy between the administrations of Trump and Obama. Data experts say that, at times, the Obama White House's increase in the number of data sets available was used as a “regulatory cudgel.” The same expert said that the current administration is taking “the opposite direction.”