Archivists urge formal process for preserving data

Information related to the transition and scientific research must be preserved, according to members of the Transparency Caucus.

According to Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), there is a “discouraging” lack of transparency and archiving on the part of the federal government.

The congressman said at a Feb. 1 event that the recent presidential transition proved there needs to be a more formal process for archiving the federal government’s digital footprint, but neither went as far as to propose what this process should look like.

“It was discouraging to learn that the federal government does not have a formal process for archiving .gov sites during the change in administrations,” Quigley said. Besides missing the chance to preserve information related to the transfer of power, “this poses a particular concern for vital scientific research and data that might be out of line with different views,” he added.

Issa agreed with this characterization, saying that when the Federal Records Act was passed, no one thought about having to archive the contents of a Gmail account.

“We’re going to have to mandate, not for this administration because there won’t be a transfer by definition, but for the next one, that all of that be captured,” he said.

Neither announced plans for any legislation that would address this issue. But they were speaking before a panel of experts who already have begun tackling this problem without much government help.

One of the groups in attendance at the Feb. 1 Transparency Caucus on Capitol Hill  was Data Refuge, which helped in the climate data archiving efforts leading up to President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Bethany Wiggin, the founding director of the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities and a Data Refuge member, said the group is currently in the first phase of making government environmental data accessible and better understanding its value.

Currently a spreadsheet is being shared with members of the Association of Research Libraries asking them to volunteer to archive data from federal departments, agencies and programs. There will be a Data Refuge key stakeholders meeting April 27-29 in Washington, D.C, to develop a more formal consortium and structure for archiving federal documents, she said. That will be phase two.

Data Refuge is not the only group archiving government websites. The Library of Congress is. working with the Internet Archive and other partners to crawl and capture federal government websites and to develop other tools to support data transfers.

Abbie Grotke, the web archiving team lead at the Library of Congress, said the End of Term Web Archive Project began in 2008 and has archived millions of government URLs.

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