Results of OMB Watch FOIA Request on Information Withheld

OMB Watch submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to a number of federal agencies asking for a list of any information removed from agency web sites in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and any criteria used in making decisions to remove such information. The following inventory is based on responses we have received thus far, giving particular attention to EPA; it will be updated as we receive more information from those agencies that have not yet responded. Previously, OMB Watch has maintained an inventory based on removals reported to us or written about in the press. View list by category: Info Removed from EPA's Web Site | Info Removed and Later Reposted to EPA's Web Site | Info Removed from Other Agency Web Sites Information Removed from EPA's Web Site Post 9-11
  • Risk Management Plans (RMPs) -- RMPs are filed by each facility that uses or stores extremely hazardous chemicals, and are to be made available to the public under Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act. The information removed from EPA’s web site includes measures taken by a facility to prevent an accidental release and response plans to protect human health and the environment in the event of a release. Also included in each plan is an evaluation of the potential effects of an accidental release, including worst-case scenario information. However, Congress decided to restrict access to this worst-case scenario information, making it available only in 50 “reading rooms” around the country; it has never been available on the web, even before Sept. 11. Documents provided to OMB Watch indicate EPA is considering a "tiered approach" to disseminating RMP information. "The tiered approach would range from open public access to limited access for public partners using public key infrastructure (PKI). The tiered approach will allow us to provide information resources to citizens with a higher level of oversight,” according to a Jan. 8 memo from EPA’s Office of Information responding to questions from a federal depository librarian in Santa Barbara, Calif, adding, “In the future, we may use ‘push’ technology to inform specific groups of new information resources. ‘Push’ technology allow us to disseminate information (i.e. emergency responders, medical community, etc.), while creating lower public visibility of information resouces.” OMB Watch provides executive summaries of RMPs on the Right to Know Network.
  • Automated Resource for Chemical Hazard Incident Evaluation (ARCHIE) Database -- Database that allows user to put in a chemical name and find out how the chemical will react under certain circumstances. Performs release rate, pool evaporation, neutral and dense gas dispersion, pool fire, jet fire, fireball, BLEVE, and vapor cloud explosion calculations. User must provide chemical data (there is no chemical database) and little or no modeling experience is required. ARCHIE was removed by EPA Region 7 on Oct. 25, 2001.
  • Selected information was removed from EPA's Region 7 Integrated Contingency Plan on October 11, 2001. A similar plan for Region 3 is available, however, on its website here, and Region 6 has its Regional Integrated Contingency plan available here, making it clear that the information was removed in a random fashion.
    • Appendix A.3, Economically Sensitive Areas -- A copy of this information was not included in response to our FOIA request.
    • Appendix A.3.a, Surface Water Intakes -- List includes permittee name, waterbody, county, and state.
    • Appendix A.3.b, Water Intakes Missouri and Mississippi River -- List includes company name and phone number; river, mile-marker (from US Army Corps of Engineers "Navigation Charts"), county, city, and state for water intake locations on MO or MS rivers.
    • Appendix B.1, Regulated Facilities -- List includes name, address, and phone number for EPA region 7 regulated facilities that have an EPA approved Facility Response Plan.
    • Appendix B.2, Regulated Pipelines -- List includes operator name, state, county, and zone ID.
  • Floor plan of Ocean Survey Vessel ANDERSON -- a Vietnam-era Navy patrol gunship that was converted to a research ship for EPA. Removed by the Office of Water on Oct. 19, 2001.
  • Direct Connect access to EPA database service Envirofacts -- Envirofacts is a database that allows users to retrieve information from a variety of EPA databases, such as information about air pollution, water pollution, chemicals at facilities, grants/funding, toxics releases, and more. The public is only able to retrieve information within a query that EPA has already set up. For those users that wish to write their own queries, EPA set up "Direct Connect" passwords, allowing them access to the entire database. Direct access to the entire database was restricted to Federal EPA Employees, EPA Contractors, the Military, Federal Government, and State Agency employees on April 1, 2002.
Information Removed and Later Reposted to EPA's Web Site Post 9-11
  • EPANET -- EPANET is a program that simulates movement of chemicals through drinking water distribution systems. The Office of Research and Development (ORD) Laboratory decided that the EPANET software had some potential for terrorist use and "was taken down as an early precaution" on Oct. 11, 2001. Later the same day EPA officials told the ORD Lab that a careful and thoughtful review of web-based agency products is underway and asked it to restore access to EPANET immediately. Access to EPANET was restored on Oct. 16.
  • Envirofacts -- The Envirofacts database was completely shut down on Sept. 20, 2001, with no web access at all. It was fully restored on Sept. 25, 2001, for both public users and users that had "Direct Connect" access to the database. Direct Connect users build their own queries for the database and have access to all of the information; public users only have access to queries that EPA has already set up. On April 1, 2002, EPA announced it would no longer allow "Direct Connect" access to the public (previously mentioned), and that only U.S. EPA employees, U.S. EPA Contractors, the Military, Federal Government, and State Agency employees would have access.
  • Region 2 EPA -- On Oct. 25, 2001, the EPA Region 2 office took down over 50 web pages dealing with watersheds in New York City, various pages with maps, and some pages with references to mercury poisoning. The pages were reviewed internally, and then reposted to the web almost four months later on Feb. 19, 2002.
  • The National Exposure Research Laboratory (NERL) -- NERL provides research on exposure to environmental risks for use in EPA's risk assessments. NERL shut down all of its web sites on Oct. 1, 2001, at the direction of its Director. An EPA official questioned the decision to shut down all sites, though from the emails OMB Watch received, sent no other guidance to NERL employees. NERL gradually brought the websites back online, though there was no criterion used. The following web sites are part of NERL:
    • The Center for Exposure Assessment Modeling (CEAM) Website -- CEAM was approved for reopening on Oct. 17, 2001. CEAM provides data on how to predict what will happen when certain water, land, and multimedia pathways are exposed to organic chemicals and metals.
    • Microbiology Chemical Exposure Assessment Research (MCEARD) -- All files from the MCEARD web site, including the EPA Microbiology Home Page, were removed from the web. MCEARD conducts research to measure, characterize and predict the exposure of humans to chemical and microbial hazards, including research that provides information on which hazardous contaminants are transported via air, water, food, and soil to populations at risk. The Microbiology web site provides access to microbiology-related information that has been developed or managed by EPA, including EPA methods related to bacteria, viruses and protozoans, images of microbes, software programs, and a lab video. The EPA Microbiology home page and the MCEARD home page were placed back on the web on Oct. 29, 2001.
    • The Ecosystems Research Division (ERD) -- ERD conducts research on chemicals, greenhouse gas cycles, and land misuse that create exposures and potential risks to humans and ecosystems. The ERD web site was restored on Oct. 17, 2001.
Information Removed From Other Agency Web Sites Post 9-11
  • Department of Energy (DOE) -- OMB Watch's request to DOE is pending; DOE's FOIA office has told us that there are "stacks" of information waiting to be organized before it can be sent to us.
  • Department of Energy Office of Inspector General (OIG)
    • DOE IG informed OMB Watch that a report entitled "Non-Nuclear Weapons Parts at the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site" was removed in its entirety. The DOE IG gave us the url for the report, which is, but the item was taken out of the table of contents and is not linked to anywhere on the current DOE IG site. The report can be found, however, by searching for its title at FirstGov, the government's web portal, and clicking on this link. The cached version of the Table of Contents of the 'Reports' page on FirstGov does not reflect the changes that DOE IG made to its current 'Reports' page.
    • DOE IG also informed us that a map from a report entitled "Administrative Control of the Hanford Reach National Monument" was removed. The report is at:
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) -- NASA responded to OMB Watch's FOIA request by sending a copy of its Internet publishing guidelines, available here, and a memo from the Chief Information Officer, the Office of Management Systems, and the Office of Security Management & Safeguards, entitled "NASA Web Site Registration and Internet Publishing Content Guidelines," available here. An employee in the NASA FOIA office stated that the different divisions of NASA were still trying to figure out what information had been removed, and that there is no official inventory or organization as of yet.
    • NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) -- GRC responded to OMB Watch's FOIA request by sending an email (available here) from the GRC Chief Information Officer regarding Web Site Registration and Access Restrictions, as well as the two items sent from NASA headquarters, mentioned above.
  • National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA)
    • An article from the American Forces Press Services entitled "NIMA: The Eyes of the Nation" was removed; however, OMB Watch found that it is available on another government website here.
    • An article from Aviation Week entitled "NIMA Infotech Retools U.S. Space Recon Ops" was removed, but OMB Watch found that it is available from this location by searching for the title on Google.
    • An article from Federal Computer Week entitled "NIMA: Imagery Everything" was removed, but it is located here on the FCW site.
    • An article from Federal Computer Week entitled "Military Getting Massive Imagery Library" was removed, but it is also on the FCW site at this location.
    • An article from the Tampa Tribune entitled "Geography Key to Military Intelligence" was removed but can be found on the Tampa Tribune site and purchased from archived news for $1.95.
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS) -- IRS responded to our FOIA request by informing us that it removed one page from its website that contained information for IRS employees who were displaced from their offices as a result of the events of September 11th.
back to Blog