Public Interest Groups: Agencies must notify public before stripping online government data

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Today, a group of 65 public interest organizations dedicated to open and accountable government, free speech, civil rights, consumer protection, the environment, and other issues called on federal agencies to fulfill their legal requirement to provide the public with adequate notice before removing public information from government websites.

Amid reports that information has gone missing from the US Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Education websites, the groups urge the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to remind agencies that they are required to give adequate public notice when making significant changes to public information. The letter further calls on agencies to provide the public with appropriate justification in advance of any removal of significant information, as well as instructions on how to access the information once it has been removed from the agency website.

Without appropriate notice, the letter notes, the public is left wondering whether information missing from government websites has been removed permanently, is temporarily inaccessible, or has been moved elsewhere on the site. Volunteers from government and civil society have been scrambling to preserve government data they believe is at risk for removal, but if agencies fail to give notice, years of government work on important issues could be effectively lost to the public. The groups also call attention to a memo that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) provided to agencies late last year, reminding them that federal web records, including databases or datasets, or the systems in which they reside are federal records. When websites are significantly modified, the web records must be sent to NARA for preservation.

As the letter states, “It is crucial that agencies comply with the law, so that the public does not lose access to vital government information that helps them protect themselves and hold the marketplace and their government accountable.”

Read the full letter and press release here.