9/18/02 -- No URL Left Behind? Web Scrub Raises Concerns -- Education Week
The Department of Education is in the process of a massive overhaul of its Web site to make it easier to use and to remove outdated data -- and ensure that material on the site meshes with the Bush administration's political philosophy.
The department will strip its ed.gov site of thousands of files, many of them old and inaccessible from the site's home page. Sometime this fall, the new Web site will be unveiled, with special sections for teachers and researchers, parents and policy wonks.
But some researchers and government watchdogs say the department's decision to scrap some information based on whether it comports with Bush administration initiatives could set an unsettling precedent. The redesign thus highlights yet another question emerging from new technology: Just what responsibility do political officials have to preserve the products of those who came before, particularly if their predecessors saw the issues in a different light?
You know, I suppose the responsibility depends on what, exactly, the material is. I mean, the National Archives has, theoretically, a copy of the old ed.gov website -- it requested copies of the old websites shortly after Shrubya's administration came in, and shortly after everyone realized that said administration was applying a scorched-earth (or web page) policy to all government sites. (The National Archives got caught with its pants down. It first said, "Oh, no, we don't want all those old websites," and then a few days later said, "OK, you know what we just said about not wanting those old websites? We fibbed." But I digress.) Mind, just because the website is in the National Archives electronic collection doesn't mean that it's accessable.
But really, I suppose the question is: exactly what is it they're throwing away? If the issue is an archive of previous administration policy decisions ... well, on the one hand, yes, it would be nice to have those around, but anyone expecting Shrubya to keep anything Clintonesque anywhere near his administration would be an utter and absolute fool. And if the issue is merely policy, and not research, then since the policy will have changed, there may be less reason to keep it around, except as a record of the past.
However, it's quite likely, given what it's doing in other parts of the government, that Shrubya's administration is deleting quite a lot of perfectly valid research reports, purely because they may say things like, "Vouchers are not good for the educational system." (Don't know if there is any such paper about vouchers at the department of Education. It's just a f'rinstance.)
Actually, the remarkable thing is that the Department of Education is still there. It's been a target of Republicans almost since it was split off from the old Health, Education and Welfare department. It's legendary among university financial aid departments for its ability to misplace paperwork and set unrealistic deadlines. And at that, it's considerably better and more responsive than the old Education section of HEW. But again, I digress.