EPA Contractor Sent ‘Unauthorized’ Message About Deactivating Open Data Portal

An Environmental Protection Agency contractor issued an incorrect pop-up window on the agency’s open data portal, claiming that the website would be deactivated on Friday to prepare for a possible government shutdown.

“This was a contractor sending inappropriate and unauthorized communications on EPA’s behalf,” John Konkus, deputy associate administrator for public affairs, said in a response to MeriTalk. “The website isn’t going anywhere.”

The pop-up message, which previously notified users that the website would be taken down, now says, “The data on this website will continue to be available on April 28, 2017.”

The government is expected to pass a “continuing resolution” on Friday to extend funding for the website. This measure would keep the service open and operational.

The site has been open since 2016, and is used for climate, life cycle assessment, health impact analysis, and environmental justice research.

The contractor, 3 Round Stones, was notified last week by the EPA that it needed to be ready to turn off the EPA Open Data Web service by noon on April 28 in case of a possible government shutdown, according to Bernadette Hyland, CEO and co-founder of 3 Round Stones. The EPA said that if Congress couldn’t pass a budget, the agency wouldn’t be able to give technical direction for the contractor to continue its work.

After that notice from the EPA, 3 Round Stones posted its first pop-up, warning users of the imminent website shutdown.

“US EPA Public Affairs Director confirms that EPA’s Open Data Web service https://opendata.epa.gov will not be turned off, given a continuing resolution is passed on 28-April 2017. The service will remain operational and available,” Hyland wrote in a blog post Monday.

The pop-up message was then changed to reflect the decision.

This follows confusion about President Donald Trump seeking to eliminate the EPA’s climate data website. EPA employees said in January that Trump ordered the agency to remove the climate change page from its website despite rules in place to preserve online information produced by agencies. Federal records management regulations prohibit Trump from making climate change data disappear, despite the order to take down part of the website.

EPA employees are responsible for “destroying records only in accordance with approved records schedules and never removing records from EPA without authorization,” according to EPA’s policy.

 

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