Agendas vanish from Obama's transition Web site

Last week, President-elect Barack Obama launched a Web site detailing his plans for tech, Iraq, and health care. Now those plans are gone, and the campaign isn't saying why.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read
Caption: An excerpt from President-Elect Barack Obama's now-deleted technology agenda on Change.gov.

Last week, President-elect Barack Obama launched a Web site with detailed information about his plans for technology, Iraq, and health care policies.

Now they're gone.

The "agenda" Web pages on Change.gov seem to have mysteriously disappeared on Sunday. By Monday morning, they were replaced with a vague statement saying that Obama and running mate Joe Biden have a "comprehensive and detailed agenda" that will "bring about the kind of change America needs," with the individual pages deleted entirely.

A version of the now-deleted homeland security agenda recovered from the cache feature of Microsoft's Live Search is far more detailed, promising to convene a nuclear terrorism summit, declare the Internet "a strategic asset," and establish a $2 billion fund to "counter al-Qaeda propaganda." Those happen to be identical to the promises that candidate Obama made earlier this year; they have not been deleted from the campaign Web site.

I've posted mirror images of the vanished homeland security section, the technology section, and the newsroom section listing the different topics on the right side of the page.

Dan Pfeiffer, Obama's transition communications director, would not say what was going on or whether the deletion meant that some of the campaign promises would be dropped. He sent CNET News a one-line e-mail message saying: "That section of the Web site is being retooled."

This isn't the first time that vanishing or altered documents on a presidential Web site have been noticed: President Bush got some unwelcome attention for this last year. The White House's Web team also rewrote the May 2003 caption showing Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier after the Iraq occupation proved more problematic than expected (see before and after).

The ephemeral nature of Web publishing does raise some serious issues: if a president-elect circulates a physical press release promising to do something, and then changes his mind, there's a paper trail. That doesn't exist when files are added to a Web site and then quietly removed over a weekend.

The Library of Congress and other institutions, including the California Digital Library and the Government Printing Office, are trying to remedy this by doing an "end of term" crawl. That means they're regularly crawling and archiving all .gov domains that are considered "government sites," including Change.gov. The crawl started in September and will continue through February 2009.

The project has a varying crawl schedule, so it may not have collected the agenda pages on Change.gov, Abbie Grotke, a digital media project coordinator on the Web capture team in the Library of Congress' office of strategic initiatives, said on Monday.

The Change.gov site has been added to the list of sites to be crawled as part of the Library's Election Archives project--a separate effort. Gina Jones, also part of the Library's office of strategic initiatives, said that since it's a new site, it hasn't been collected yet.

CNET News' Stephanie Condon contributed to this report.