New tools aim to help journalists track removal of information from federal websites

Rachel Bergman

About Rachel Bergman

Rachel Bergman is co-founder and director of programs of the Sunlight Foundation's Web Integrity Project where she leads the research and monitoring of federal agency websites.

In honor of Sunshine Week, AHCJ invited organizations devoted to government transparency to write about how their work can help health care reporters. Here is the third of four.

Government websites are changing the information they supply related to topics such as sexual orientation and women’s health, and the Web Integrity Project (WIP) at The Sunlight Foundation, a national nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., has been on a mission to track those changes.

In our first-ever report published earlier this month, our nonpartisan team highlighted examples of statistical policy working papers and other resources that had either been relocated or entirely removed from federal statistical websites.

WIP monitors and documents changes to federal websites, and disseminates findings to journalists to inform the public about significant reductions in access to information. Through this work, we hold our government accountable for how it manages and controls information online and also develop frameworks for better information governance.

We also produce policy analyses to evaluate and recommend changes to Web governance practices and help ensure access to valuable Web resources.

Our monitoring work in the health care sector will focus on webpages that relate to politically sensitive topics, including maternal and child health, reproductive health, LGBTQ health, mental health, and the Affordable Care Act.

We’re already monitoring 10,000 webpages from various agencies and offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

We’ve begun analyzing changes across other federal government websites, and in the coming months we plan to add more agency websites to our detailed monitoring efforts. The potential areas of focus may include civil rights, immigration, criminal justice and foreign affairs.

Our websites will code the changes we report on, as well as those found by other civil society and media organizations, and we’ll compile them into a Website Change Tracker that will launch in the coming weeks.

WIP’s work is part of The Sunlight Foundation’s effort to improve access to public information, the core of our larger mission of making government more accountable and transparent through civic technologies, open data, policy analysis and journalism.

With a decade of success achieving policy and legislative outcomes, our experts provide insight into the intersection of transparency, accountability, and technology, and suggest constructive ways to improve how governance works.

In the past, we’ve published databases that journalists found useful for digging into money in politics, influence, legislation, and regulators. Today, we publish analyses for improved transparency policy and maintain a list of President Trump’s conflicts of interest. Our reporting is used by policymakers and journalists around the world.

The Web Integrity Project plans to release new reports on changes we’ve found through our monitoring efforts. If you’re a journalist who would like to receive them,  please let us know.

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