Navigating Treasury’s dreadful website

By Felix Salmon
November 4, 2010
say that "Geithner’s appointments calendar, updated through August on Treasury’s website", shows an off-the-record meeting with Jon Stewart, but they don't link to it.

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Bloomberg’s news reporters still haven’t worked out how to link to external websites, even the US Treasury: they say that “Geithner’s appointments calendar, updated through August on Treasury’s website,” shows an off-the-record meeting with Jon Stewart, but they don’t link to it.

That’s sad, because finding the link is non-trivial. First, you go to the Treasury homepage. Then you ignore all of the links and navigation, and go straight down to the footer at the very bottom of the page, where there’s a link saying FOIA. Click on that, and then on the link saying Electronic Reading Room. Once you’re there, you want Other Records. Where, finally, you can see Secretary Geithner’s Calendar April – August 2010.

Be careful clicking on that last link, because it’s a 31.5 MB file, comprising Geithner’s scanned diary. Search for “Stewart” and you won’t find anything, because what we’re looking at is just a picture of his name as it’s printed out on a piece of paper.

In other words, these diaries, posted for transparency, are about as opaque as it can get. Finding the file is very hard, and then once you’ve found it, it’s even harder to, say, count up the number of phone calls between Geithner and Rahm Emanuel. You can’t just search for Rahm’s name; you have to go through each of the 52 pages yourself, counting every appearance manually.

Is this really how Obama’s web-savvy administration wants to behave? The Treasury website is still functionally identical to the dreadful one we had under Bush, and we’ve passed the midterm elections already. I realize that Treasury’s had a lot on its plate these past two years, but much more transparent and usable website is long overdue.

Update: Tom Lee explains that the horrid format of the calendar might well be a function of the fact that there still isn’t decent electronic redaction technology.

Update 2: ProPublica puts up the calendar in searchable form! Rahm appears on 49 of the 52 pages.

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