On January 24, two anonymous sources at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told Reuters that the Trump administration had instructed EPA officials to remove the data-heavy climate change page from the agency’s website, and that the page could be taken down as soon as the following day. A public backlash quickly ensued, and the Trump administration at least temporarily backed away from its plan to shut down the website on January 25, as E&E News reported.
Whether the Trump-led EPA will ultimately remove the website remains to be seen, but regardless, the episode represents a victory for open data and a guide for how whistleblowers can work with reporters to push back against Trump administration gag orders that have alarmed science and transparency advocates.
And judging from their initial response, major media outlets seem to recognize that seeking out whistleblowers is particularly important in the current political landscape.
On the same day that the EPA employees alerted Reuters of Trump’s plan to shut down the EPA climate website, Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein reminded government scientists and officials that they can “securely and confidentially” send tips and documents to the AP via its SecureDrop service. The Washington Post also ran through its version of SecureDrop in a January 25 article titled, “Here’s how to leak government documents to The Post.”
Meanwhile, the staff at InsideClimate News (ICN) provided whistleblowers with a list of do’s and don’ts for revealing internal documents and information to ICN without compromising themselves.
It is safe to say that there is already widespread concern among civil servants about government transparency under the Trump administration, as a series of rogue climate-related tweets from National Park Service employees clearly demonstrates. But this battle over information is really just beginning, and it’s more important than ever that reporters work with whistleblowers to hold the White House accountable.