The Obama Administration launched its Campaign to Cut Waste today and, among other things, singled out the DesertTortoise.gov website as an example of "waste." Cutting government waste is an admirable task. But we should not slash with abandon and end up cutting what could be the most cost-effective form of government transparency and education. The White House's decision to highlight the tortoise website as an example raises questions about their criteria for defining "waste."
There are certainly examples of unnecessary government websites. One of the examples given was the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission website (the Centennial was in 2003). Information on aviation history is highly available on other websites, school libraries, and television. Shutting down the Centennial website is unlikely to deprive the American public of a critical source of information on this topic.
But is the DesertTortoise.gov website a waste? The tortoise is a threatened species across the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, and its population has declined by as much as 90% in some areas. Recovery of the desert tortoise will require education and collaboration among a very broad population of citizens across four states. Biologists and land managers, local elementary school teachers, off-highway vehicle users, and just about anybody else who plans to visit the desert and wants to learn more about this amazing species (California's deserts see about 6.7 million visitors, per year, according to the California Wilderness Coalition). Encouraging public education about the species ensures that we know how to share the tortoise habitat in a sustainable way.
Is there a better alternative for sharing information that can enable the recovery of this species?
There are some questions that remain to be answered. How much does the DesertTortoise.gov website cost to maintain? How many people use the site? What other alternatives are there for disseminating so much information to such a broad audience? Could the functions of the DesertTortoise.gov website be merged efficiently into another relevant website?
We may receive some answers to these questions soon, but hopefully the White House is not trying to turn off the lights on environmental education.