Veteran federal employees criticized the “overblown” reaction by activists and media outlets to the Trump administration ordering federal agencies to temporarily halt putting out official communications.
News outlets frantically reported President Donald Trump’s team ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to temporarily freeze grant spending and stop sending out social media posts or talking with reporters. Similar memos were sent to Health and Human Services, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture employees.
When EPA employees leaked the memo to news outlets, the media went wild. The Hill newspaper wrote “Trump bans EPA employees from giving social media updates.”
“Trump silences government scientists with gag orders,” the Verge reported. The Guardian wrote “Trump bans agencies from ‘providing updates on social media or to reporters.’”
But veteran federal employees disagreed. Those who spoke to the New York Times said the Trump administration acted no differently than the Obama administration did when taking over the reins of government in 2009.
“I’ve lived through many transitions, and I don’t think this is a story,” an unnamed senior EPA employee told NYT. “I don’t think it’s fair to call it a gag order.”
“This is standard practice,” the employee said. “And the move with regard to the grants, when a new administration comes in, you run things by them before you update the website.”
Similar news came out about a “gag order” for a small branch of the Department of Agriculture, which led to Buzzfeed to report “USDA Scientists Have Been Put On Lockdown Under Trump.”
“Starting immediately and until further notice” the Agricultural Research Service “will not release any public-facing documents,” reads the memo obtained by Buzzfeed. The memo was rescinded Tuesday after a media firestorm.
But Trump never ordered the “lockdown.” In fact, the memo to USDA researches was sent by Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack, President Obama’s appointee.
“This memo is not some sort of creative writing exercise,” Michael Young, acting deputy secretary of the Agriculture Department, told NYT. “This is almost exactly what was issued eight years ago. I just updated it a bit.”
Concern over gag orders came as official government social media accounts supposedly went rogue in defiance of Trump.
First, the National Park Service retweeted two posts seen as casting a bad light on Trump. The Park Service temporarily suspended its tweeting before apologizing Saturday. Then, the National Hurricane Center shared an anti-Trump Facebook post, apologized for it, then deleted the apology.
Badlands National Park tweeted a series of global warming-related posts that had little to do with its mission. Reporters and celebrities were quick to back this “rogue” national park fighting back against Trump.
That turned out not to be true. The National Park Service said a former employee gained access to their Twitter account, and that they took the tweets down on their own. The Trump administration did not order them to take down the tweets.
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