In early October, the Washington Post reported that FEMA had removed from its website information on access to drinking water and electricity in Puerto Rico, even as it maintained other metrics suggesting improvement in the situation on the ground there. FEMA offered no meaningful explanation for the selective removal.
That information was restored after public outcry, including from Protect Democracy, but the Trump Administration has still not explained why it happened in the first place. That’s why we are filing suit against the Trump Administration for information and communications around that removal of information, given that the Trump Administration has refused to respond to our FOIA requests on the matter.
Given that the President has publicly insisted that the recovery in Puerto Rico is “incredible” and “unbelievable,” notwithstanding independent reporting suggesting otherwise, it is critical that the information put out by the government be accurate and free of improper political interference.
This episode raises serious questions about whether improper political interference might have played a role in the removal of recovery data and might still be affecting the data FEMA and other agencies publish on national emergencies and tragedies affecting its citizens. For just one example: are the death tolls being reported in Puerto Rico accurate, or are efforts being made to manipulate public data in order to put a positive spin on an American tragedy? And in general can the American public trust that disaster information from FEMA is independent of the President’s political agenda?
Protect Democracy has also been partnering with Whistleblower Aid to be able to assist any federal employees who witnessed any illegal or improper acts that might ultimately lead to less pressure on the federal government, less aid, and more suffering and deaths of American citizens.
In protecting our democracy, one of our core areas of focus is what one White House senior advisor aptly and famously called “alternative facts.” Americans need to know the actual facts about the life-and-death circumstances of our fellow citizens. If we cannot count on that, our democracy is slipping away in ways we may never even know.