Why we’re launching the Web Integrity Project

We’re excited to announce the launch of the Web Integrity Project, a new effort that we’ll be leading within Sunlight.

The mission of the Web Integrity Project (WIP) is to monitor changes to government websites, holding our government accountable by revealing shifts in public information and access to Web resources, as well as changes in stated policies and priorities. We’ll work with journalists to make our findings public, and we’ll produce policy analyses to evaluate and recommend changes to Web governance practices and help ensure access to valuable Web resources.

Beyond providing the public insight to the ways our government may undermine the integrity of public information and Web resources, we believe it’s important to help the public understand how it can access those resources in the future and demand that the federal government makes that access possible. An informed public can call on the U.S. government to sustain valuable programs and demand the creation of important safeguards that contribute to our collective well-being. Any government that censors public information diminishes the public’s capacity to do so.

Monitoring and Classifying Changes to Federal Websites

Our effort will expand on the work that Toly and Andrew began as Sunlight Fellows last August, documenting and analyzing changes and removals of resources on federal websites, and continued through the first year of the Trump administration. We’ll also be building on the work they’ve done helping lead the Website Monitoring Team at the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) over the past year, where they’ve helped uncover significant changes to federal environment, climate and energy websites, including the targeted censorship of climate change Web resources. Toly and Andrew will serve as WIP’s Director and Director of Policy, respectively.

We’re excited to welcome Rachel Bergman to Sunlight as a WIP co-founder and Director of Programs. Rachel will lead our efforts to monitor changes to specific federal webpages and write detailed reports about the changes we find. In addition to using protocols that Andrew and Toly helped to develop at EDGI, we’re excited to partner with the Internet Archive and make use of their Wayback Machine in writing our reports.

Our website monitoring reports will be geared toward providing journalists and advocates with essential context for how federal websites evolve, helping distinguish between routine changes and those that substantially censor information. We’ll also serve as a resource, assisting journalists as they use changes to federal websites as a lens for betting understanding agencies’ shifting priorities.

We’ll be approaching our monitoring work by sector, beginning with federal health and healthcare websites, where we’re focusing 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 that span the websites of 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, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

While we’ve already begun analyzing changes across other federal government websites, we also plan to expand our detailed monitoring efforts to other agency websites in the coming months, with potential focuses that include civil rights, immigration, criminal justice, and foreign affairs and aid.

Using our classification for changes to government websites, we’ll code the changes we report on, as well as those found by other civil society and media organizations, and compile them into a Website Change Tracker, which we’ll launch in the coming weeks and continually maintain. Just as we’ve used our classification in the past, our Tracker will code each change’s class and topic.

Web Governance Policy Analysis and Recommendations

As a core part to our mission, we’ll also being using what we learn from documenting changes to federal websites to analyze the government’s Web governance policies and practices and make recommendations for how they can be improved.

Building on efforts that we’ve begun with partners at the American Library Association and OpenTheGovernment, we’re committed to continue advocating for improvements to Web records policy at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), such as an update to NARA’s Guidance on Managing Web Records, which was last published in 2005. We’ll provide NARA recommendations on best practices for how agencies should log and archive website changes, as well as how they should provide appropriate notice when changes are being planned and occur.

We hope that improved NARA policies will help protect public access to information and improve agency compliance with the Federal Records Act at a time when public information is under threat from the Trump administration, in addition to helping agencies understand how to avoid public confusion when making regular changes or updates to their websites.

We’ll also comprehensively analyze the ways in which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has fallen far short in its role ensuring that agencies implement sound Web records practices. This includes OMB’s failure to ensure compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act obligation to, “provide adequate notice when initiating, substantially modifying, or terminating significant information dissemination products,” and maintenance of agency standards consistent with current OMB memoranda, such as M-17-06, Policies for Federal Agency Public Websites and Digital Services.

Finally, we’ll compare written agency Web records policies with our own findings showing how they’ve really implemented Web governance. When we find discrepancies, and examples that demonstrate that the policies above are being ignored, we’ll encourage Congress to exercise its power to conduct oversight and demand agency practices that protect public information and data.

What’s Next for the Web Integrity Project

With our efforts to begin monitoring federal health and healthcare websites underway, we’ll start publishing reports about our findings next week. If you’re a journalist that would like to receive our reports, please let us know. We’ll follow by launching our Website Change Tracker in the coming weeks.

We’re also excited to announce that we’ll be hiring a Senior Investigator and a Website Monitoring Analyst, and we’re already accepting applications for each of those positions. Please let us know if you’re interested in applying or if you’d like to learn more about how you can get involved, to volunteer to monitor changes to federal websites, share advice or a tip about changes you’ve noticed, or just to ask us more about our work.

We look forward to working to protect access to public information and informing the public when the government has censored Web resources. And we look forward to getting your feedback on how we can continue to improve our efforts.

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