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RIP, Change.gov

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Friday, July 26 2013

President Barack Obama's personal brand is inextricably linked to the words "hope and change," thanks to his initial presidential campaign, so it's not surprising that open government advocates are pouncing on the removal of the contents of Change.gov as a symbol of a broken promise.

John Wonderlich, The Sunlight Foundation's* Policy Director, first caught the change at Change.gov earlier this week with a tweet, and then a blog post. He speculates that perhaps the White House had removed the contents because one of its promises, to "protect whistleblowers," has clearly been broken.

He pointed to this relevant section of Obama's ethics agenda:

Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.

"It may be that Obama's description of the importance of whistleblowers went from being an artifact of his campaign to a political liability. It wouldn't be the first time administration positions disappear from the internet when they become inconvenient descriptions of their assurances," Wonderlich wrote.

One could argue that Change.gov isn't relevant anymore since it's a site that was designed to inform the public about the transition between President George W. Bush's administration and Obama's. However, the federal government has archival policies for its Web sites, so it's odd that the White House would simply remove the content of the site. Couldn't they have simply made it available through a section at Archives.gov, the site of the National Archives, just as the Bush White House site is available?

At any rate, Wonderlich has a point. Some call them whistleblowers, and others call them leakers, but the fact is that the Obama Administration has gone after whistleblower/leakers with a vengeance, according to a recent New York Times article. What's even more eye-opening is that this leak-analysis process began, according to the New York Times, in 2009, just after Obama was elected.

An e-mail to the White House press office wasn't returned. White House New Media Director Macon Philips is on leave. Deputy New Media Director Nathaniel Lubin is on furlough as a result of sequestration.

Presumably, the contents at Change.gov will be archived at some point since Phillips has noted in the past that all White House social media and Web sites will be automatically archived as a result of the Presidential Records Act.

For now, we'll have to refer to the WayBack Machine, a project of Interent pioneer Brewster Kahle, to compare Obama's initial promises and his current performance.

Thanks, Brewster!