With the arrival of any new president, vast troves of information on government websites are at risk of vanishing within days. The fragility of digital federal records, reports and research is astounding.
No law protects much of it, no automated machine records it for history, and the National Archives and Records Administrationannounced in 2008 that it would not take on the job.
“Large portions of dot-gov have no mandate to be taken care of,” said Mark Phillips, a library dean at the University of North Texas, referring to government websites. “Nobody is really responsible for doing this.”
Enter the End of Term Presidential Harvest 2016 — a volunteer, collaborative effort by a small group of university, government and nonprofit libraries to find and save valuable pages now on federal websites. The project began before the 2008 elections, when George W. Bush was serving his second term, and returned in 2012.
It recorded, for example, the home page of the United States Central Command on Sept. 16, 2008, and the State Department’s official blog on February 13, 2013. The pages are archived on servers operated by the project, and are available to anyone.
The ritual has taken on greater urgency this year, Mr. Phillips said, out of concern that certain pages may be more vulnerable than usual because they contain scientific data for which Mr. Trump and some of his allies have expressed hostility or contempt.