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Redaction and Technical Incompetence

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Felix Salmon, finance blogger extraordinare, was inspired by some reporting by Bloomberg to have a look at Treasury's website. Apparently Tim Geithner visited Jon Stewart back in April, and Felix was understandably interested in seeing the evidence for himself. He went to the Treasury website, and then... well, things took a turn for the worse:

First, you go to the Treasury homepage. Then you ignore all of the links and navigation, and go straight down to the footer at the very bottom of the page, where there’s a link saying FOIA. Click on that, and then on the link saying Electronic Reading Room. Once you’re there, you want Other Records. Where, finally, you can see Secretary Geithner’s Calendar April – August 2010.

Be careful clicking on that last link, because it’s a 31.5 MB file, comprising Geithner’s scanned diary. Search for “Stewart” and you won’t find anything, because what we’re looking at is just a picture of his name as it’s printed out on a piece of paper.

In other words, these diaries, posted for transparency, are about as opaque as it can get. Finding the file is very hard, and then once you’ve found it, it’s even harder to, say, count up the number of phone calls between Geithner and Rahm Emanuel. You can’t just search for Rahm’s name; you have to go through each of the 52 pages yourself, counting every appearance manually.

Is this really how Obama’s web-savvy administration wants to behave? The Treasury website is still functionally identical to the dreadful one we had under Bush, and we’ve passed the midterm elections already. I realize that Treasury’s had a lot on its plate these past two years, but much more transparent and usable website is long overdue.

This all sounds sadly familiar to me. I still remember when Treasury started posting TARP disbursement reports as CSVs instead of PDFs. I was working on Subsidyscope at the time, and had to load those reports on a weekly basis. It's more than a little sad how much better my life got when they made that change.

record of Timothy Geithner's meeting with Jon Stewart

But I think it's important to note that Felix's frustration isn't just the product of bad technology.

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