Updated: OMB responds to coalition letter on stripping online government data

Update: On March 6, the coalition received a response from OIRA Acting Administrator, Dominic Mancini:

Thank you for this letter, and for your interest in the government’s information management policies.

While I can’t comment on any of the specific items you raise in your letter, I wanted to let you know that Acting CIO Margaret Graves and I did send a note reminding the agencies of their obligations with respect to information dissemination under existing laws and guidance; in particular, the Paperwork Reduction Act section 3506(d)(3) and OMB Circular A-130, Managing Information as a Strategic Resource, section 5(e)(7)(b).  In addition, we reminded agencies that they should continue to manage their public facing websites and digital services, and the information on them, in a way that maintains high standards of effectiveness, usability, and information quality, as outlined in OMB memorandum, M-17-06, Policies for Federal Agency Public Websites.


On February 13, a group of 69 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 here