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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On the list of things that are long overdue at Treasury, the revamped website falls far behind several Undersecretaries and others who have not been confirmed.

Posted by klhoughton | Report as abusive

Sounds like a scene from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

Arthur: I eventually had to go down to the cellar.
Bureaucrat: That’s the display department.
Arthur: I had to take a torch.
Bureaucrat: The lights must have been out.
Arthur: So were the stairs.
Bureaucrat: But you did find the plans.
Arthur: Yes, I found them. In a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory behind a door that said “Beware of the tiger.”
Bureaucrat: That’s our display department.

Posted by rajeshj | Report as abusive

Amen to your comment on scanned documents. Another pet peeve is when guidance or another agency document mentions another guidance document without providing a link. My guess is that agencies (and perhaps newspapers) don’t like links because they don’t want to manage broken links and the inevitable process of updating them. But any organization that strives to make information available should take every step possible to ease the flow of that information.

Posted by Ademanaonge | Report as abusive

A “scanned” appointment calander for one of the top members of the Executive branch? Please don’t tell me that his calendar is still maintained on paper. It has to be on a computer they have to be able to book one another without phone calls to secretaries who are looking at a Day-Timer book. Right???

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive

“Please don’t tell me that his calendar is still maintained on paper”

Don’t be silly – its maintained on a 360 Wang word processor. The calendar is printed on paper, and changes, which are many, becuase he is a very important guy, are made by cutting and pasting…real cutting of the paper into rectangles, and pasting with real glue onto another piece of paper, which are than provided to the administrative calendar vice-president of undersecretaries for revision, collation, and publication.

Geez, how else do you expect us to do it?
(seriously, I am a bureaucrat, and that is how we do things in my agency…right down to the Wang)

Posted by fresnodan | Report as abusive

Acrobat Professional’s OCR function is useful, but for these Treasury docs you have to first go into Illustrator and delete the various insertions of “(b)(2)” as they screw up the OCR software.

Posted by Setty | Report as abusive