Librarians, environmentalists, and others complained to the NGA—a defense agency that is part of the U.S. intelligence community—that these maps and publications are now part of their professional toolkit as well and would be sorely missed. Biologists used them in the mapping of species distribution. Engineering firms used them in construction projects. While too specialized to be missed by the general public, this data contributes to the public well-being.
The list of government records removed from public access during the Bush administration goes on and on, and includes environmental data from Environmental Protection Agency reading rooms, various unclassified records on the safety of chemical and nuclear plants, and other infrastructure data. This purge reverses the "openness initiatives" of the previous administration during which government Web sites emerged by the thousands and nearly a billion pages of historically valuable records were declassified.
The information blackout may serve the short-term interests of the present administration, which is allergic to criticism or even to probing questions. But it is a disservice to the country. Worst of all, the Bush administration's information policies are conditioning Americans to lower their expectations of government accountability and to doubt their own ability to challenge their political leaders.
Information is the oxygen of democracy. Day by day, the Bush administration is cutting off the supply.