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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

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 EPA issues illegal gag order to staff

The Bush administration is noted for its strict control of "leaks" to the press and its discipline regarding perceived acts of dissent. Now, the coward's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered its staff to "refrain from answering" questions from the news media.

Earlier this month, Bharat Mathur, the top EPA official for the six-state Mid-western region (covering the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin), issued a memo to the entire staff within the region entitled “Working with the Press.” The memo, however, orders EPA not to communicate with, let alone work with, the press. Instead, all inquiries from reporters are to be routed to the EPA Office of Public Affairs. Mathur’s memo forbids employees from initiating any contact with a reporter or from responding to inquiries made by the members of the press. Even EPA employees who are designated public spokespersons on particular matters must “report their conversations” with reporters to the Office of Public Affairs.

This new EPA non-disclosure policy:
  • Overrules previous practice of allowing agency scientists or other specialists to answer questions that fall within their recognized expertise;
  • Appears to violate Congressionally-enacted bans on agencies imposing any “nondisclosure policy, form, or agreement” on its employees without explicitly informing employees about their rights to reveal matters covered by statutes such as the Whistleblower Protection Act; and
  • Seems designed to hide information by directing reporters away from experts and toward relatively uninformed public affairs staff.
Why the new policy is a bad, if not illegal, idea:
  • It is so broad that EPA employees cannot reveal where the bathrooms are located or what the time of day is to a reporter
  • It shows the EPA political leadership’s profound fear of the expertise of its own professional staff.
  • It appears to violate Congressionally-enacted bans on agencies trying to impose any "nondisclosure policy, form, or agreement" on their employees without informing employees of their rights under the Whistleblower Protection Act.

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