Websites are the primary means by which federal agencies communicate with the public. Changes to the presentation of and access to website information can directly impact the public’s ability to understand and participate in civic issues, including environmental decision-making. Since January 2017, EDGI’s Website Governance Project (formerly the Website Monitoring Team) has documented and analyzed changes to tens of thousands of federal agency environmental webpages. We assess the quality and accessibility of web information, and provide recommendations to agencies for improving the provision and preservation of their public information.
Our work revealed systematic suppression of information relating to environmental rules and regulations under the Trump administration, along with the imperative for a series of improvements to website governance, as described in Access Denied: Federal Web Governance Under the Trump Administration. We detailed widespread censorship of climate change language across federal agencies during the Trump administration in The New Digital Landscape, and elucidated patterns of censorship in Visualizing changes to US federal environmental agency websites 2016-2020. In Crossing the Line, we also identified troubling patterns of flagrant politicization of EPA news releases during the Trump administration. A public record of the over 1,000 website changes we observed under the Trump administration is available through our Federal Environmental Web Tracker.
Under the Biden administration, we are pressing federal agencies to develop digital information policies that protect public information, build websites that can foster scientific literacy and learning, and provide opportunities for public oversight and agency accountability. We urge agencies to especially ensure the availability and utility of web information to help the public understand and comment on proposed regulations. As described in our report Work in Progress: Governance of Digital Environmental Information in the Biden Administration’s First Year, in 2021 we observed improvements in federal websites that addressed damage done to public information by the Trump administration, including updating and restoring several resources that had been deleted, drawing connections between environmental issues, and using more direct language to discuss urgent issues such as the climate crisis. However, the Biden administration has not made progress toward federal digital information policies that would protect information from the kinds of abuses we observed under the Trump administration. Improving these policies is of utmost importance to ensure the public can rely and trust on government environmental information.
EDGI’s website governance and monitoring work has been covered in more than 150 news articles. To see some of our work, please read our:
For more information on EDGI’s website governance efforts, please contact us through Gretchen Gehrke at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also explore the development of our open-source website monitoring platform, Scanner, at https://github.com/edgi-govdata-archiving/web-monitoring.