Sharon Drumm, chief of staff of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, sent out an email on Monday telling all employees to halt the release of any “public-facing documents.”
The news follows another hit at conservationists in government institutions, as reports surfaced on Monday the Environmental Protection Agency had also imposed restrictions on grants and external communications.
Much speculation is surrounding these gag orders, as the Trump administration starts to set in and do things their way. Both environmental institutions remain leaderless waiting for Congress and Senate approval.
Fake news or real censorship? USDA says the memo is not legit
BuzzFeed News was the first outlet to break the story after obtaining the ARS memo on Tuesday morning. While the email is legitimate, the USDA says they did not give departmental approval for its sending.
“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,” Drumm wrote to staffers.
The web portal noted the Service’s last tweet was, in fact, on January 19, the day before the inauguration, and that it coincided with the recently-disclosed gag order.
However, in an interview with Reuters later on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the email was sent without any direction, guidance, or approval from them to the subordinate entity.
The USDA, which oversees all activities of the ARS, is in charge of agricultural research, regulation, and initiatives pertaining water, soil fertilization, irrigation, gas emissions, and environmental impact of human-made crops and farming.
The Huffington Post reports that, in the EPA’s case, transition team members may have been involved with the new communication directives following a meeting with department authorities on Monday.
Who is to blame? Trump doesn’t control those agencies yet
While many were quick to point fingers at the newly sworn-in President, both the EPA and the USDA technically remain under their old leadership as the transition continues to take place.
Scott Pruitt is Trump’s pick to head the EPA, and he is still pending approval from the Senate to take the helm at the agency. On the other hand, the former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue is waiting for congressional approval to take over the USDA during a hearing that has yet to be scheduled.
The consequences of censorship at these levels in scientific government entities could result in a much deeper impact than the general public thinks, limiting research and campaigns that could potentially change lives.
Altering official public information could also propel the fake news phenomena to a whole new level, this time dealing with misinformation on health, weather, and the environment at a national scale from otherwise reliable and transparent sources.
Under this new guidance, neither USDA nor EPA employees gave statements to the press when asked about the matter. The Trump transition team has also refused to comment on the issue.