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Change of the Week: Budget Info Goes Missing at DOI

Authored by EDGI’s Website Monitoring Team

Welcome! This post is part of the EDGI Website Monitoring Team’s “Change of the Week” blog series. The purpose of this series is to highlight interesting changes we have observed in the language used on, or access to, federal websites. We want to share these changes to encourage public engagement with and discussion of their significance, as well as understanding of the ephemeral nature of website information. This week’s change was made in spring 2020 and features the removal of all past years’ budget documents on DOI’s “Budget Justifications” webpage. For more information about this and related changes, please see our report, “Department of the Interior Deletes Budget Documents from Website.”

Text highlighted in red was removed between April 20, 2020 and May 4, 2020.

What happened? The Department of the Interior (DOI) removed budget justifications for the years preceding Fiscal Year 2020 (the current fiscal year) from its website. Until spring of this year, the DOI “Budget Justifications” webpage (www.doi.gov/bpp/budget-justifications) included budget justification documents for 19 of its agencies and department offices for each year dating back to FY2012. The DOI “Appropriations” (also known as “Budget by Year,” www.doi.gov/budget/appropriations) and “Budget in Briefs” (www.doi.gov/bpp/budget-briefs) webpages used to link to pages with budget justifications and other important fiscal information dating back to 2001. The past years’ budget justification documents are no longer available through the DOI website: their URLs now register as “Page Not Found.” The links provided to past years’ budget webpages from the “Appropriations” and “Budget Briefs” webpages now register as “Access Denied” and the budget justifications documents linked on those now-restricted pages register as “Page Not Found” (they are mostly, but not all, the same URLs that had been linked on the “Budget Justifications” page).

Why we think it is interesting: Budget justifications are plain-language explanations of how a federal agency or office intends to use the money appropriated to it by Congress. Budget justifications are the primary documents Congress uses in its decisions to appropriate money, and they are some of the only products of the budgeting process geared toward an explicitly broad, non-expert audience such that the public can learn about agencies’ use of money. 

Through the removal of past years’ budget documents, there has been a significant reduction in the financial transparency of the Department of the Interior. The removal of past 8-19 years of budget justifications strips the public’s ability to assess DOI’s current budget requests and understand them in the context of the fiscal year, in relation to other departments and agencies, and as part of a longer trajectory of department funding. With recent DOI annual budgets ranging from 11 to 15 billion dollars requested from Congress, taxpayers have a right to know how DOI has planned to spend its money. 

September 30th marks the end of federal fiscal year 2020. As we enter into FY 2021, will DOI remove access to FY 2020 documents as well?