Federal agencies asked the Trump White House to approve dozens of new “.gov” websites.
But Trump officials rejected many of them, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
In contrast, the Biden White House has approved almost all such website requests.
Donald Trump’s White House blocked dozens of federal agencies from creating new government websites aimed at aiding homeless people, fighting human trafficking, and helping people vote, according to records obtained by Insider through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The requests for new websites came from agencies small and large at a time when Trump had grown openly hostile toward his own administration, often deriding the federal government’s executive branch as an out-of-control “deep state” conspiring to undermine him.
The Department of Defense, Department of Labor, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Central Intelligence Agency, and Environmental Protection Agency are among the more than two-dozen agencies that Trump’s Office of Management and Budget rebuffed.
Proposed websites that Trump’s Office of Management and Budget rejected include HumanTrafficking.gov (Department of State); ReportFraud.gov (Federal Trade Commission); Telehealth.gov (Department of Health and Human Services), FindShelters.gov (Department of Housing and Urban Development), and FiscalData.gov (Department of the Treasury), according to federal records.
Such custom “.gov” website domains enhance government agencies’ ability to effectively provide and market services to an American public that’s all but universally connected to the internet.
Without them, agencies can still create new sections on their primary websites, but with long and unmemorable subdomain names replete with slashes and hyphens — not exactly prime fodder for a billboard or public service announcement.
The documents obtained by Insider listed no reasons for why the Office of Management and Budget rejected or accepted an agency’s “.gov” website domain request.
Neither did the Office of Management and Budget, whose spokesperson, Isabel Aldunate, declined to answer Insider’s questions.
Representatives for Trump, who this week officially launched his 2024 presidential campaign, did not reply to several messages.
Major difference between Trump and Biden
The Trump White House’s practice of regularly blocking and slow-walking federal agencies’ website requests stands in stark contrast to that of President Joe Biden’s White House, which has approved almost every request it’s received, federal records indicate.
Of the 105 “.gov” websites requests Trump’s Office of Management and Budget considered between July 2018 and the day Trump left office on January 20, 2021, it accepted 60, denied 44, and left one pending — a 41.9% rejection rate, according to the records obtained by Insider.
Of the 95 “.gov” website requests Biden’s Office of Management and Budget considered between January 21, 2021, and September 9, 2022, it accepted 85, denied four, and recorded six requests voluntarily withdrawn — a 4.2% rejection rate.
Insider asked more than a dozen federal agencies that had their custom .gov website domain requests rejected by the Trump White House to explain what happened.
Some declined to comment, including officials at the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Labor. Others did not respond to inquiries, including the Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For those who did comment, they offered limited insight into why they sought new .gov websites or why the Trump White House denied their requests.
Housing and Urban Development, for one, told Insider in a statement that it asked to establish FindShelters.gov in late 2019 “for the creation of a new tool that would provide information about housing, shelter, healthcare and clothing resources in communities across the country.”
After two months in limbo, the Trump White House denied the agency’s request. It now provides such information on its main agency website, with resources concentrated at a URL of https://www.hud.gov/homelessness_resources.
HUD’s understanding of why its request was denied: “There has been a federal-wide ongoing effort to limit and reduce the number of federal public-facing websites. The effort was started to reduce cost and redundancy.”
On December 23, 2019, the CIA asked Trump’s White House to approve the website domain DataTransport.gov. A week later, the Office of Management and Budget rejected the request.
“The domain was registered to support the IC’s data services program,” a source familiar with the matter said of the CIA’s request, with “IC” standing for “intelligence community.” The source offered no additional details.
In March 2019, the generally apolitical Peace Corps asked Trump’s Office of Management and Budget to green-light PeaceCorpsCN.gov — a website referencing its operation in China. Office of Management and Budget officials rejected the request on an unspecified date.
“Per compliance with Binding Operational Directive (BOD) 18-01, the domain was requested at the time to enhance email and web security,” Peace Corps spokesman Troy Blackwell wrote in an email.
“After Peace Corps closed the China post, we no longer needed the domain,” Blackwell said.
Block and delay
In at least one case, Trump’s White House denied a website request — the United States Agency for International Development-sponsored ProsperAfrica.gov — that Biden’s White House later approved.
The ProsperAfrica.gov website now details efforts by the United States Agency for International Development to mobilize “services and resources from across the US government to empower businesses and investors with market insights, deal support, and financing opportunities” on the African continent.
And of the custom website domains Trump’s Office of Management and Budget did OK, approval often took weeks or months instead of the days or hours typical for Biden’s Office of Management and Budget.
One particularly testy delay came during the summer of 2020, when the Election Assistance Commission sought approval to create HelpAmericaVote.gov and use it to recruit and coordinate an army of new poll workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which by then had sidelined tens of thousands of older election volunteers unable or unwilling to staff in-person voting sites.
An unexpectedly long delay ensued. Finally, the Office of Management and Budget sunk the Election Assistance Commission’s HelpAmericaVote.gov website, arguing in an email obtained by Insider that the election agency’s request “did not justify the creation of a stand-alone site.” The decision arrived as Trump’s assertions that US elections were “rigged” and fraudulent had grown louder and evermore detached from reality.
Then-Election Assistance Commission Executive Director Mona Harrington frantically appealed for reconsideration.
“This is really negatively impacting our progress at this point,” she wrote Justin Grimes, then an official in the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer. “Please advise, we desperately need the domain.”
Several days later, the Office of Management and Budget reversed its decision, and HelpAmericaVote.gov would go live in mid-August 2020, just in time for National Poll Worker Recruitment Day on September 1. About 100,000 people visited the site that day, the Election Assistance Commission said.
In a statement to Insider at the time, Trump’s Office of Management and Budget said it rejected the Election Assistance Commission’s request for HelpAmericaVote.gov “because the information provided did not justify the creation of a stand-alone site based on existing requirements. OMB worked with EAC given the importance of the topic to improve the justification which led to approval.”
Trump’s Office of Management and Budget did approve a few custom web domains quickly.
Among those granted the swiftest approval: TrumpLibrary.gov, TrumpWhiteHouse.gov, and FlyHealthy.gov.
Curiously, the General Services Administration on October 8, 2020, proposed creating BuildBackBetter.gov, which Trump’s Office of Management and Budget approved the same day, according to federal records.
At that juncture, Biden has already made “build back better” a cornerstone plank of his 2020 presidential campaign platform. Trump’s administration did not appear to use the BuildBackBetter.gov domain for any material purpose. But in mid-November 2020, then President-elect Biden began using it as part of his official presidential transition web presence, according to the Internet Archive‘s Wayback Machine.
An opaque approval process
Trump in 2018 tapped the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to serve as the national gatekeeper for new federal government websites — a role previously filled by the General Services Administration.
In a statement to Insider last year, the General Services Administration said the Office of Management and Budget decided in February 2018 to “perform the adjudication of all new federal executive branch .gov domain requests to limit the proliferation of executive branch stand-alone .gov websites/domains and infrastructure.”
The office immediately took a hard line on agencies’ website requests, denying as many as it accepted during the second half of 2018, according to federal records.
But the decisions were made out of public view.
In January 2021, Insider filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking the Office of Management and Budget for records related to .gov website domains that federal government agencies had petitioned to create. Insider also asked for records indicating whether the Office of Management and Budget approved or denied the agencies’ requests to create .gov websites.
In March 2021, Office Management and Budget officials denied Insider’s FOIA request, stating that “no responsive records were located.”
Insider formally appealed that decision. In late October, about 19 months later, Office of Management and Budget officials acknowledged that records Insider requested did indeed exist.
Officials then agreed to release a summary of .gov website requests the Office of Management and Budget had approved and rejected, although it did not immediately provide other requested records, such as documents explaining why officials approved or denied a particular website.
The data include eight recently requested websites that are listed as “pending.” Seven come from the Department of Education and appear to pertain to student debt relief, a top Biden administration priority, and feature URLs such as StudentDebtRelief.gov and GetStudentLoanRelief.gov.
The websites were not yet functional as of mid-November.
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