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Object Lesson in Non-Transparency At Energy.gov 111

Posted by timothy
from the but-it's-a-dry-heat-death dept.
Harperdog writes "Dawn Stover recounts her attempts to access information at energy.gov, the U.S. Energy Department's 'cutting-edge, interactive information platform,' which apparently isn't any of those things. Especially frustrating were her attempts to locate important documents related to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. An interesting read for anyone interested in true government transparency."
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Object Lesson in Non-Transparency At Energy.gov

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  • by icebike (68054) * on Thursday January 26, 2012 @02:20PM (#38832093)

    One wonders if accessing information about Coal or Natural gas production would be easier than information about Nuclear waste storage.
    It might be she stepped into a Homeland Security issue, and managed to get herself on a watch list. All these documents were supposedly transferred in 2010. That would put it squarely in the Obama administration's Open Government time frame, but it was also during the height of the irrational security theater phase of locking up information about everything from Atomic weapons to Water supplies.

    Google would have been more fruitful, as the article states.

    • by Dyinobal (1427207)
      ya looking into anything related where the government stores nuclear materials even nuclear waste seems like asking for, at least some red tape.
    • by jazzboat (2560253)
      Additionally, basing her conclusion on the search results for one document seems a bit rash. True, from her description, the document should have been found, but just because this one document was not found, it does not prove that this is either another example of an open governement project failing or some nefarious conspiracy.
    • by Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @02:46PM (#38832431) Homepage
      I have tired using data.gov to try to get the GIS data for the trails in national parks, I also tried the national parks service without any luck. So it isn't just sensitive info that is impossible to get.
      • by Synerg1y (2169962) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @02:58PM (#38832557)

        But but but, let's back up a minute here. The government trying to purposefully obfuscate sensitive data on a website? Realize they wouldn't publish truly sensitive data here... also, when has the government ever made a user friendly, easy to navigate website? There are projects out there that scrape government websites into better websites to present data. It's more a testament to our IT fail than deliberate vagueness.

    • by hairyfeet (841228) <.bassbeast1968. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday January 26, 2012 @03:02PM (#38832597) Journal

      Or it could be that the site just blows chunks just like their petition site. seriously how can you fuck up a registration input with captcha so damned badly? Please god tell me that was donated to the gov, i'd hate to think we paid for that shite on a crusty roll.

      if there is anything one should have learned about interacting with the government by now it should be its frustrating, often insanely overcomplicated for even the simplest little thing, sucks time like mad, and if you aren't real careful you'll either end up going around in circles or in a catch 22 situation. Frankly most of the nitty gritty is a giant mess that only seems to help spawn more government workers. BTW did you know that government workers now outnumber fishermen,loggers,miners,and about a half a dozen other jobs combined? Blew my mind when i read that but it makes sense, red tape breeds pencil pushers like shit breeds mushrooms. BTW if anybody can find that list of how many jobs combined are less than government workers i never thought to save it and its a pretty damned long list.

    • by Aquitaine (102097)

      This is nothing but FUD. Yucca Mountain has got next to nothing to do with nuclear weapons and you aren't going to get on a 'watch list' by asking about it. It's been studied and discussed and studied all over again dating back to 1978. The proposed storage facility is for spent fuel from nuclear reactors. You can't use this stuff to make nuclear weapons. That doesn't mean you want to hand it out at parties, but it's a basic radioactive storage problem first, and a security problem no more so than storing a

    • by trevelyon (892253)
      You might want to read the article a bit more carefully. She states that there is a wealth of documents both in google and on the NRC (nuclear regulatory commission so it is rather unlikely this is a security issue or one of limited search for one document. She also lists several other search topics that provided similarly poor results. In particular presenting the information with no summary is not security it's poor implementation that will end up wasting the user's time, provider's bandwidth for littl
  • by jasnw (1913892) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @02:36PM (#38832295)
    After working with a variety of US Government agencies over my 40+ year career I learned many lessons about how these agencies work. A major one was how mandated actions or behaviors were handled. It wasn't important that you actually did what the mandate called for, it just needed to APPEAR that you did. This website experience from TFA sounds very much like this behavior.
    • This is called Mandated Processes, not Mandated Results. If they had to cost justify their existence, most agencies couldn't even come close.

  • www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/abject+lesson.html
  • What a surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @02:40PM (#38832359)
    What a surprise, the Administration that touts itself as the most transparent in history, isn't. As a matter of fact it is busy obfuscating as much information about the government as possible.
    • It's like anything else in politics: perception is all that matters, not substance.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Grishnakh (216268)

      It just shows how much of a bald-faced liar Obama is.

      It's pretty sad: the Republicans are far more deserving of respect than he is. At least the Republicans are honest about their intentions and plans to make the rich richer, prop up badly-managed corporations, and screw everyone else. They come right out and say it to our faces, and try to convince us it's for the better, and that rich people are better than the rest of us, and half the public actually believes them. Obama and the Democrats, OTOH, are bi

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        I love how the Democrat morons get mod points and mod me down for speaking the truth about their corporatist, warmongering Messiah.

  • by slimjim8094 (941042) <{ten.detcennoctsuj} {ta} {3todhsals}> on Thursday January 26, 2012 @02:41PM (#38832385)

    I read the article, and he's basically got problems with the search feature, the size of PDFs (or the quality of their previews?), and what happens to agency documents when an agency closes (they go to an agency that handles 'legacy' documents)

    This is a very accusatory article and summary for the problems he's got. Non-transparency? Obfuscation? Or a work-in-progress? If new work is hidden away, or old work isn't made available in a straightforward and reasonable fashion, then complain... but this guy just comes off as complaining.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      >but this guy just comes off as complaining

      Should he give praise for the effort even when the result is non-satisfactory?

    • by acwnh (749367) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @02:58PM (#38832561)
      You couldn't have read the article too closely since the author's first name, Dawn, is usually a woman's first name.
      The article goes into a fair amount of detail regarding information that used to be available prior to the new-and-improved-and-consolidated website energy.gov. Based on the contents of the article, I personally would conclude that the author's complaints are valid.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by slimjim8094 (941042)

        I wasn't concerned with the author's name. I will admit I skimmed some of the non-relevant portions, since I was short on time, but I believe I got the substance of the post.

        As for the old website, sites tend to grow organically. The content on the old website was put there one-at-a-time, as it came to exist. The new website would've required a bulk import, and those are pretty slow. I'd rather they have the new site up earlier than delaying until everything is copied over. Should it have been done better?

  • Also missing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by uigrad_2000 (398500)

    Wow, there's a lot of trolls today.

    Back on topic:
    I couldn't find anything at Energy.gov [energy.gov] that indicates what portion of my tax burden is due to supporting non-competitive forms of "green" energy.

    I don't care where you come down on these issues, but anyone who views this site has to agree, that it is pure marketing. I run my monitor at 1920x1080, and I had to press 'PageDn' three times to get to the content!

    • I don't care where you come down on these issues, but anyone who views this site has to agree, that it is pure marketing. I run my monitor at 1920x1080, and I had to press 'PageDn' three times to get to the content!

      I read that, and thought, 'Oh, c'mon, it can't be that bad.'

      Then I actually went to energy.gov... Sweet zombie Jesus...

      I find the American Idol-esque "Who will be AMERICA'S NEXT TOP ENERGY INNOVATOR" banner ad at the top particularly disgusting.

  • All of these Obama, "transparency", websites are a little too polished, and completely peppered with politispeak bullshit.
  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @03:00PM (#38832579)
    I hardly blame them for not releasing information on Yucca Mountain to a potential muck-raking reporter. I know everyone hates the idea of Yucca Mountain, but do they realize the alternative? Nuclear waste is currently being stored on-site all over the country and piling up. The potential for disaster is growing unless that waste can be disposed of, and I am not aware of any better alternative than Yucca Mountain.
    • We don't need to poison our air and water to have a succesful society, and nucular is BAD. All we need is to go back to nature, get rid of all this awful progress and live simply. If I need energy I will just hitch a few unicorns to a plow! Simplify man!

      • But what do we do with existing nuclear waste? We cannot just stick our heads in the sand and pretend that this stuff is not piling up at power plants all around the country. Because that is what it seems like a lot of the anti-Yucca people are doing....All the complaints about the long-term viability of Yucca Mountain are ludicrous compared to the long (or even short) term viability of storing used fuel rods on site at plants. Fukushima was storing spent rods on site....
        • What to do with it? Leave it exactly where it is. Let the people who benefited from the production of the waste be the ones who deal with the waste. Seems totally fair to me.

        • Missed the unicorn part, huh?

        • If I need energy I will just hitch a few unicorns to a plow!

          But what do we do with existing nuclear waste?

          Well, what do you think those unicorns are going to eat, huh?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      potential muck-raking reporter

      Dawn Stover

      Stover is a science writer based in the Pacific Northwest and is a contributing editor at the Bulletin. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Conservation, Popular Science, New Scientist, The New York Times, and other publications. One of her articles is included in the 2010 Best American Science and Nature Writing, and another article was recently awarded a special citation by the Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism.

      Yeah, the bitch soun

      • Actually I have to apologize for this post. I was off-base.... It is just fustrating that there is not solution to the nuclear waste dispoal problem....killing Yucca Mountain did not seem like the solution
    • by Jawnn (445279)

      I hardly blame them for not releasing information on Yucca Mountain to a potential muck-raking reporter. I know everyone hates the idea of Yucca Mountain, but do they realize the alternatives? Nuclear waste is currently being stored on-site all over the country and piling up...

      TFTFY. You did actually mean to include the other alternative, right? You know, the one where we hold-off on creating more nuclear wast until we can figure out what to do with shit that stays toxic for tens of thousands of years. Because just burying it in the ground is stupendously short-sighted approach. Right?

    • by Fned (43219)

      and I am not aware of any better alternative than Yucca Mountain.

      I'm aware of one: "getting rid of that retarded law that prevents us from using it as fuel."

  • In politics, the infinitely thin blade of knowledge that is left after everything else is cut.

    Seriously, this should not come as any great surprise. Politicians have a vested interested in not publishing anything that could be embarrassing. Civil servants have a vested interest in not publishing anything that might threaten their careers. On top of that, there is a tradition of security through obscurity and we live in a time when the appearance of security is considered of paramount importance, trumping al

    • by jd (1658)

      Perhaps the person who modded my post a troll would like to explain how stupidity and ignorance make for sound judgement or competent oversight. You can't? Oh, what a surprise THAT is. By modding it so, you have only demonstrated WHY stupidity and ignorance are unacceptable. Since the cure is never less oversight, the only cure is better education and more of it.

      In the case of Slashdot, you can see that clearly. Back when the majority were intelligent, moderation was also intelligent. Now that it is a haven

  • We all need to keep in mind that `transparency` is a relative term (0-100%), and that being served a mandate to make things `transparent` does not necessarily determine how `transparent` things actually are, nor does it mean that incompetence (or intentional malfeasance) can't change just how `transparent` things actually become.
  • But, but, but... How can these problems keep popping up? Don't we have the first-ever Blackberry-using President?.. Was not Obama praised as "technologically-savvy" on this very forum in 2008?

  • I didn't find the sites mentioned in the article any harder to navigate than the average commercial site. Author was incorrect about not being able to access documents online at the Office of Legacy Management site. I suggest she show a little more patience and perseverance if her object is to find information. If she just wanted to flame Obama's promises of transparency, any topic or government site would do.

  • by decsnake (6658) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:30PM (#38833605) Homepage
    that which can be attributed to the government procurement process. IME, all federal govt web sites suck, esp. those used for internal purposes, for which conspiracy theories just don't even make any sense. What they do all have in common is that they are developed by contractors, under the competitive procurement process. Just ask anyone that has had to use fedtraveler.com.
  • by dthx1138 (833363) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @05:15PM (#38834081)
    Right after I went to energy.gov and searched for Yucca Mountain, I got the same 22 results. However, on that results page was a link right at the top entitled "search all of Energy.gov" which then yielded 108 results. It doesn't seem like the author was very thorough here, herself.

    Considering that these are generally PDFs containing large quantities of information (not endless blog re-posts like you'd get with Google hits), it's pretty hard to believe that there's a deliberate attempt to obscure information.

    Is their search system as intuitive and comprehensive as Google? No. Then again, nobody's is- if it was easy, everybody would be doing it, and Google wouldn't be Google.
  • by dwheeler (321049) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @05:26PM (#38834203) Homepage Journal

    The Energy department should not have wasted a dime of public money on a specialized search engine built into their website. Yet it looks like they did just that. Government agencies should focus on getting the documents posted in standard formats (e.g., PDF) and then let commercial engines do all the work. You get bonus points if you mark the documents with key metadata (title, authors, abstract, date), but even without that, most commercial search engines can find lots. I'm not the first to note that, several articles have noted this.

    If an agency just HAVE to have a search engine on the page, they can just reuse a commercial one. For example, if you want to reuse Google, just follow the instructions here: http://www.google.com/sitesearch/ [google.com] which just inserts a few lines of HTML. From then on, all done. You can see an example on my website front page at www.dwheeler.com [dwheeler.com]. I don't actually do the searching... I just redirect to Google. And users don't have to use Google, they can use any search engine they find convenient.

  • They have a crappy search engine. Do a google site search. site:energy.gov "yucca mountain" returns 2460 results.
  • We’re always looking for ways to improve Energy.gov and I appreciate hearing the concerns outlined in this article and comments.

    In fact, after this article flagged concerns about searching the site, we started working to change the search functionality on the homepage of Energy.gov to default to global search. Currently, the search defaults to within the top-level Energy.gov pages and doesn’t include results from all the subsites within the platform unless you indicate as such. For example, wh

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