This story was updated at 10:35 a.m. EST.
Shortly after President Trump’s swearing in Friday, most of the content on the Department of Energy’s home page disappeared into the ether.
The changeover was much more abrupt than the transition between presidents George W. Bush and Obama in 2009. Back then, the incoming administration dropped in a photo of the new Energy secretary, Steven Chu, and added a small box giving an overview of Obama’s energy plan. (See the before and after.)
The Trump administration’s DOE immediately removed most of the elements of the home page, including blog entries, news updates, information boxes and a video.
Whether the deletion is a sign of new policies or simply a clearing of the decks is unclear. A query to Trump’s transition team went unanswered. Trump’s pick to run DOE, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is awaiting confirmation by the Senate.
After this story’s publication, DOE’s press office made a statement by email. "Nothing was deleted, we just changed the format of the homepage. All the drop downs are still present with associated content, as are all the office pages," it said.
"Drop-downs" are the items in the page’s top navigation bar that link to other parts of the DOE website. The content of those drop-downs, and the pages they link to, appear to be unchanged since Obama’s departure.
The Obama-era site had links to elements that Trump’s fossil-fuel-friendly team might want to delete, such as pages trumpeting the prospects of clean energy and a video tour of a wind turbine. But it also had a blog post honoring J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the project that invented the atomic bomb.
It makes sense for the Trump administration to change the website’s content, since it’s looking to distinguish itself from Obama’s policies, said Barry Rabe, a professor at the University of Michigan who also does research on energy and climate policy for the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution.
"Like any incoming president, he’s going to want some demonstrated action," Rabe said. "What’s easier than changing words on a website?"
Some fear Trump’s team will delete or alter public data related to energy and climate. Hackers have been racing against the clock to download information from federal databases, especially data related to climate research and U.S. EPA, in anticipation that it may be threatened under a new administration dismissive of action on climate change (Greenwire, Jan. 20).
On Trump’s new DOE home page, the only holdover is a set of rotating images at the top of the page, known in web-speak as the carousel. Though the carousel remains, its content has changed.
As of Obama’s last day in office, the carousel featured five items: an exit interview with Ernest Moniz, the outgoing Energy secretary; a report on the state of the national laboratories; a DOE exit memo; a summary of Mission Innovation, an international commitment to clean-energy funding that may be in peril under Trump (Climatewire, Jan. 9); and a primer on home heating. Over the last month, the carousel has also featured solar energy and wind energy.
The new Trump-era carousel trimmed the number of items to four and featured links to generic content, including the department’s mission site, a landing page for the national labs, and primers on how the power grid works and on energy saving.
As of yesterday afternoon, all other content linked from the DOE home page appeared identical to how Obama’s people left it.
On a larger scale, removing information from a government website raises questions about the Trump administration’s commitment to openness. The DOE site and others across the government provide vital data for academic researchers, private industry and others, said Luke Bassett, a former staffer in DOE’s policy office who now works at the Democrat-aligned Center for American Progress.
"For those public goods to be taken away from the people who’ve paid for them and who use them and rely on them … I think that would be truly a shame," Bassett said.