Trump Administration Puts Gag Order on 
Several Government Agencies
Fortune 1/24/2017 Mathew Ingram

Employees at several federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture have been barred by the Trump administration from making any statements, or providing any documents to the public or journalists, according to published reports.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services are also impacted by the orders, which were reportedly handed down this week, and include a prohibition against some of the agencies posting on social media.

It's not clear how long these gag orders will remain in place, or whether they are simply designed to freeze activity until President Trump's hand-picked staff can issue new regulations for those agencies for posting on social media and interacting with the public. The EPA has also been ordered to freeze all grants, contracts and other agreements until further notice, according to numerous reports.

A memo sent to EPA staff said that there should be no press releases sent to "external audiences" and that "no social media will be going out," according to a report by The Hill. The memo also says that a digital strategist will be coming in to oversee the agency's social-media policies, and that "existing, individually controlled social-media accounts may become more centrally controlled."

The memo also ordered that no new posts be made to any agency blogs, that staff send a list of any external speaking arrangements, that no new documents be uploaded to any public website, and that "incoming media requests will be carefully screened."

Staff at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service also got a memo on Monday telling them not to provide any documents to the public, including press releases and social-media content, according to BuzzFeed News. The email told employees, including about 2,000 staff scientists, that "starting immediately and until further notice," they were not to release any documents or post anything to social media.

Employees of the Department of Health and Human Services were also told not to publish any new documents or correspondence in any public forum, including the Federal Register, and not to discuss any documents or rules with public officials "until the Administration has had an opportunity to review them," the Huffington Post reported. The agency's social media account appears to be publishing, however.

The Interior Department was recently ordered to shut down its Twitter accounts temporarily, after the National Park Service retweeted a number of posts that pointed out that crowds for Trump inauguration were smaller than for President Obama.

A letter sent to all staff said that all Interior bureaus were to "immediately cease use of government Twitter accounts until further notice," and ordered that all scheduled posts be deleted, and that staff sever any automated connections between platforms or accounts. The Parks service reinstated its account on Saturday with an apology, after deleting the tweets in question.

On Tuesday, a Twitter account for Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, posted a series of tweets about climate change, an issue that President Trump has called a hoax while promising to promote the drilling and use of fossil fuels. The tweets, which included one saying "Today, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years. #climate,” were deleted without explanation a few hours later.

In a briefing at the White House on Tuesday, press secretary Sean Spicer was asked by reporters about whether a social-media gag order had been placed on the Interior Department. He said his understanding was that the department "inappropriately violated their own social-media polices [and] there was guidance that was put out to the department to act in compliance with the rules."

Spicer added that he wasn't aware of any changes to media policies affecting either the EPA or the USDA but that he and his staff were looking into it.

Trump bans agencies from 'providing updates on social media or to reporters'
Trump Muzzles Federal Employees; 
Reporters Start Asking For Leaks
Techdirt 1/24/2017

Reports started coming out this morning that the new Trump Administration had told the EPA that it needed to stop doing anything publicly without first getting approval from the White House (in addition to freezing grants and contracts). According to a memo that was sent around to EPA staff: 

No press releases will be going out to external audiences. 
No social media will be going out.  A Digital Strategist will be coming on board to oversee social media. Existing, individually controlled, social media accounts may become more centrally controlled. 
No blog messages. 
The Beach Team will review the list of upcoming webinars and decide which ones will go forward. 
Please send me a list of any external speaking engagements that are currently scheduled among any of your staff from today through February. 
Incoming media requests will be carefully screened. 
No new content can be place on any website. Only do clean up where essential. 
List servers will be reviewed. Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press. 

Why yes, such messages may end up in the press. 

Of course, it quickly became clear that this was not just for the EPA. The USDA received similar marching orders. Same with the Department of Health & Human Services and possibly others as well, including the Department of Commerce, being told it can't even publish the basic research it releases for US companies. 

It's possible to say that this is just the Trump administration hitting the pause button to figure out what's going on before moving forward again, but many in these agencies are quite worried that they're going to be muzzled for political reasons. Most of the people working in these agencies are civil servants, not political appointees, and their work is not at all political. The press releases and blog posts are generally to release new findings, research and data from taxpayer funded studies. This shouldn't be controversial or reviewed for political motives. 

Of course, this kind of thing is hardly unprecedented. For many years, we wrote about the ridiculousness of then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gagging Canadian scientists from talking about factual research that was politically inconvenient (including a study on fish stock). This kind of gagging on "politically sensitive" but factual science was only lifted last year once Justin Trudeau came into office. Of course, just a few months before that, the UK similarly started muzzling scientists to stop them saying anything the politicians didn't like. 

One hopes the Trump administration will not be putting in place similar policies. 

Of course, if that is the plan, it should be a huge boon for investigative journalists. And they're already hunting for sources. As the reports on the gag order came out this morning, lots of reporters stepped up on Twitter with notes on how to contact publications with information: 

So, perhaps this kind of gag order will lead to a golden age of whistleblowing. Unfortunately, it may also lead to further crackdowns on whistleblowers. Once again, as we've explained over and over again the past few years, the Obama administration was the most aggressive and proactive in cracking down on whistleblowers and the press, and they've now handed off that power and precedent to the Trump administration, which will have a pretty big opportunity to use it.
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‘‘Everybody’s being very cautious,’’ one employee said.