Labor accused of scrubbing website of recent rulemaking documentation

Open government watchdog groups are urging the Labor Department to republish online the documents the agency previously displayed on its website about a proposed child farm labor rule. Those documents were withdrawn shortly after the proposal was canceled in April.

Under a headline titled “No Website Scrubbing,” the Sunlight Foundation and other groups publicly released a letter they wrote to DOL officials to restore the abruptly-disappeared documents online for the sake of transparency and accountability.

“There is a clear public interest in ongoing access to documents related to proposed rules even when those proposals are later withdrawn,” the groups wrote in the May 23 letter.

DOL officials last month unexpectedly backed off from a plan to prevent children from doing hazardous work on farms owned by anyone other than their own parents.

Child labor groups had endorsed the proposal, saying it would save young lives lost in accidents on tractor and other heavy machinery.  However, the rulemaking was strongly opposed by Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and owners of small agricultural businesses, who called it unnecessary interference.

Following the withdrawal of the rulemaking, Labor officials removed online supporting documents from the agency’s Wage and Hour website. The proposed regulation itself continues to be available in the Federal Register online, according to John Wonderlich, policy director for the Sunlight Foundation.

The Sunlight Foundation, OMB Watch and other transparency watchdog groups contend that the Labor officials moved too quickly to remove the documents and should have left the documents online for a “reasonable” period of time to support accountability and transparency.

“Documentation and supporting materials that accompany rulemakings should remain online for a reasonable period regardless of a proposed rule’s status,” the groups wrote in their letter to DOL. “Removing substantive policy materials immediately after crucial decisions is inconsistent with Obama administration policies on openness and transparency, and limits public knowledge and understanding of agency decisions.”

The information that was removed included an analysis showing the current rules for child agricultural workers and the proposed changes, a fact-sheet explaining the proposed rule, and a document clarifying apparent misconceptions about the proposal.

The transparency groups addressed their letter to Nancy Leppink, acting wage and hour administrator. Labor officials were not immediately available to respond to a request for a comment.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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