Reporters rushed to download data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s open data portal after a contractor reported the portal would shut down this Friday. But the EPA called reports untrue Monday morning and stated that the site will not close and that data will remain available.
Users visiting the EPA’s open data portal were greeted with the message that “This site will be shut down Friday, April 28, 2017.” At one point on Monday, the website was unavailable due to a high number of visitors. That message has since changed to read: “The data on this Web site will continue to be available on April 28, 2017.”
In March, IRE & NICAR announced plans for a federal data directory that will connect reporters and the general public to at-risk, rescued data sets. The directory currently links to hundreds of datasets, including EPA data rescued by DataRefuge, as well as some saved by IRE members.
The Washington Post’s Steven Rich, an IRE board member, is downloading some of the data currently stored in the EPA open data portal, despite assurances from the agency.
“As we saw with the sudden shuttering of open.gov, open data portals are only available for as long as they’re available,” Rich said. “Even though the EPA’s open data portal may not be shutting down on Friday, there’s no guarantee the site will remain forever.”
During previous government shutdowns, data portals for the U.S. Census Bureau and other agencies became inoperable.
This worry follows a Sunday post from EPA contractor 3 Round Stones, the company that powers the data portal, stating it was notified by the EPA to be prepared to shut down the EPA’s Open Data portal by noon on Friday, April 28. CEO Bernadette Hyland has since updated her post on Medium to read, “The service will remain operational and available.”
In a statement emailed to IRE, EPA spokesperson John Konkus said that Hyland’s original statement was “inappropriate and unauthorized.”
“This is a contractor sending inappropriate and unauthorized communications on EPA’s behalf,” Konkus wrote. “The website isn’t going anywhere, and this episode has little to nothing to do with contingency plans in case of a shutdown.”
IRE has reached out to Hyland requesting a response to the EPA spokesperson’s statement.
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Charles Minshew is IRE’s Director of Data Services