Under Trump, inconvenient data is being sidelined

SMU Law Prof. Nathan Cortez, a specialist in healthcare law, comments on the availability of certain data under the Trump administration.

 By Juliet Eilperin

The Trump administration has removed or tucked away a wide variety of information that until recently was provided to the public, limiting access, for instance, to disclosures about workplace violations, energy efficiency, and animal welfare abuses.

Some of the information relates to enforcement actions taken by federal agencies against companies and other employers. By lessening access, the administration is sheltering them from the kind of “naming and shaming” that federal officials previously used to influence company behavior, according to digital experts, activists and former Obama administration officials.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for instance, has dramatically scaled back on publicizing its fines against firms. And the Agriculture Department has taken off-line animal welfare enforcement records, including abuses in dog breeding operations and horse farms that alter the gait of racehorses through the controversial practice of “soring” their legs. . . . 

Three months ago, there were 195,245 public data sets available on www.data.gov, according to Nathan Cortez, the associate dean of research at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, who studies the handling of public data. It dropped to 156,000 in late April and early May, before rising to 192,648 this week.

Data experts say the decrease, at least in part, may reflect the consolidation of data sets or the culling of outdated ones, rather than a strategic move to keep information from the public. Federal officials said the disappearance of tens of thousands of data sets was largely due to a glitch that occurred during work on the metadata for information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, though NOAA has also reduced the number of datasets it posts online by more than 3,000 since late December.

Cortez said the Obama administration increased the amount of government data offered to the public, although the information was at times incomplete or inaccurate and sometimes used as a “regulatory cudgel.” Under Trump, the government is taking transparency “in the opposite direction.”  

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