In the first hundred days they’re doing their best to make good on several of their campaign promises, a systematic and total overhaul of the government chief among them. “Drain the swamp” was a popular rallying cry during the waning months of the election, and it spoke to a popular opinion that everything in Washington was fundamentally corrupt and horrible. The problem with draining a swamp is that it’s an ecosystem, you see, and while you might be trying to get rid of a crocodile, you’re also going to be getting rid of those adorable little birds that pick the stuff out of their teeth. It ignores the effects, and because of that I assumed it was just a soundbite.
So it was a surprise, to say the least, when I checked in on the White House’s Open Data Portal the other day and saw that every data set in it had been removed. This, no doubt, is at least partially due to a website redesign. The portal’s homepage now proudly boasts the shining face of a new Commander-in-Chief and says that we should “check back soon for new data” (huge data, no doubt). But it also speaks to something problematic: while it’s all well and good to change the look of the site to reflect the current administration, the data that was available on the site wasn’t about President Obama’s favorite movies — it was a window into what the government was doing. Here are a few of the data sets that went missing:
- 2017 Budget Receipts
- Carbon Capture and Storage Task Force
- The White House Nominations and Appointments
It is entirely possible that these and the few dozen other data sets on the White House’s open data portal will be restored after they finish the redesign, but what’s worrying is that they were removed at all. These are pieces of data that are supposed to represent a commitment to transparency from the most powerful nation on the planet. The data didn’t lose the election; we shouldn’t have lost the data.