Trump Administration Orders Several Agencies to Restrict Public Communications

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In a move that had many people drawing parallels to George Orwell’s classic novel “1984,” the Trump administration issued communications bans on several government agencies this week.

On Monday morning, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent out an email to the employees of its research branch–the Agricultural Research Service, which includes about 2,000 scientists–instructing everyone to stop most public communication. This move, which was eventually reversed, echoed similar other orders that were issued to several government agencies.

Buzzfeed obtained a copy of the email to the Agricultural Research Service, which said:

Starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents. This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content.

Members of the scientific community criticized the announcement, citing suppression of science. After only a day of public outcry, another email was sent to the staff at ARS on Tuesday evening. This email came from ARS administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young and reversed the initial order, saying the previous notice should not have been sent in the first place. Officials later told the media that the order to the ARS had not been coordinated with the rest of the department and that it would contradict current guidelines that encourage scientists to share their finding with the media.

Scientists at the USDA were also told that they could keep publishing scientific papers in academic magazines, but could not do any interviews with the media without getting approval from the communications office first. Communications restrictions were also sent to the EPA, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Transportation, and the National Park Service. The EPA order also included instructions to freeze all grants and to not discuss it with any outsiders, the Huffington Post reported. The EPA issues grants for environmental research, air quality monitoring, education, and more.

Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, voiced anxiety about what this may mean for the agency’s future. “To our knowledge, there is not a precedent for large-scale communication freezes like this,” she said to Buzzfeed.

Last week after the inauguration, the official National Park Service Twitter account retweeted a picture comparing the crowds at the event to those attending Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Immediately after, it was ordered by its Washington office to stop all tweeting until further notice. The account was allowed to resume again, after deleting the original tweets and posting an apology.

Then on Tuesday, the Badlands National Park sent out a series of tweets with climate change facts but were quickly deleted.

And now, an alternative, unofficial National parks account claiming to be run by NPS employees has surfaced. The account, with the username @AltUSNatParkService, quickly gained popularity, with nearly 650,000 thousand followers on Wednesday afternoon. Several very similar accounts popped up as well.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer told the Hill that he couldn’t comment on the specific bans, but did say that it was normal procedure for a new administration. “I don’t think it’s anything surprise that when there’s an administration turnover, that we’re going to review the policy,” he said.

Emma Von Zeipel
Emma Von Zeipel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. She is originally from one of the islands of Stockholm, Sweden. After working for Democratic Voice of Burma in Thailand, she ended up in New York City. She has a BA in journalism from Stockholm University and is passionate about human rights, good books, horses, and European chocolate. Contact Emma at EVonZeipel@LawStreetMedia.com.



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