One Website, Two Administrations

As of April 17, 2017, the home page for the Trump White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) website is nearly barren.

At first, one might think the page has failed to load, but other pages, such as “About” and “Compliance Guidelines,” load some basic text against the same stark layout. The homepage has nothing whatsoever. The design of the site is simplistic in the extreme, outdated, and surprisingly odd to navigate, considering how little is there.  It’s not even very evident what this Office does, apart from something about science and technology.

By comparison, the archived site from Obama’s presidency is vibrant.

It highlights several feature stories, a blog, press materials, research and development budget breakdowns, and a full five tabs about its internship program. A Liberty-blue header and navigation panel help make the connection between the White House site and this particular office. Navigation is not always perfectly intuitive (the internship program was located under the “About” tab rather than on its own, for example), but neither is it a Byzantine mess.  

It is immediately obvious that this Office is about advising the President on matters pertaining to scientific advancement, and how it affects the US and the world. It is expressly stated that one of the goals of the Office is to connect the President with “sound science” and ensure it is used to the benefit of society.  During his time in office, President Obama used this Office to put forward policies on global climate change, further Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education, support nanotechnology, and improve wireless technologies.

Now, let’s be clear:  The Trump Administration has been in place for fewer than 100 days; Americans can hardly expect the new website to be as robust or polished as the Obama Administration’s website was after being developed over eight years. However, science and technology are, inarguably, the future, and what will continue to contribute to any greatness the United States has or gains. It is reasonable for the President, his team, or even the President’s political party to contribute to this inarguably skeletonized site to demonstrate how this administration will be moving the US into the future.

Further exploration of the new OSTP site reveals very little thought and planning have gone into this direct form of communication to the American people. To all appearances, the Trump Administration took the Obama Administration’s site, deleted most of the actual content, and posted the stripped-down version verbatim. The aforementioned Internships page, for example, is purely a distillation of the five tabs from the previous administration’s internship section, presented as one long “wall of text” rather than a few tabs. The Contact Us page is literally just an address and phone number, with a small mention of an email address for specific purposes. The FOIA page has been migrated completely, but with slightly different text formatting and more text in place of links to pertinent instructions and background information. Other pages continue in the same vein; unformatted, stripped-down versions of what came before, with less information.

More telling, perhaps, is the About page itself, as it is possibly the most important to the first-time visitor, orienting them as to the purpose of the page and organization it represents. It is also the easiest part of the site to flesh-out before the administration even takes control, or at the very least soon after. However, it is virtually blank, with nothing but a jargon-laden paragraph and a link to the organic statute–the 1976 policy that gave this Office life.  Strategic planning sessions, staff meetings, and input from the President all help guide the Office, and these guiding principles or plans can be easily condensed and cut-and-pasted into the “about” section. This would communicate to the user that that, though the site is under construction, thought and planning are going into what comes next.

Regardless of political stance, it makes sense to cut back on the previous administration’s information on a site, particularly if revamps of an office are planned. However, it makes no sense to nearly wipe the OSTP site’s information and provide a complete lack of new information. An administration in the 21st century with no concept of where the Office of Science, Technology, and Policy is headed is an administration with little to no forward planning for the country.