There is something extremely disturbing going on right now. People believe that President Trump has placed a gag order on the Environmental Protection Agency and The Department of Agriculture, restricting the flow of research information between the agencies and the public. I am here to tell you that your news sources DO matter. Buzzfeed and The Verge, for example, have published some erroneous articles that have lead the public to believe there is some sort of attack on government research; and it is being blown widely out of proportion.
I am here as an employee of the Department of Agriculture telling you that there is nothing to freak out about, and this is just business as usual. And, interestingly enough, the people I see freaking out the most and driving this story further from the truth are not government employees and have little experience with how federal agencies operate; i.e., journalists.
I can’t say for sure exactly what the head of the EPA directed be disseminated to his employees (I assume it was something similar), but I can for certain say what was directed by former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s USDA as he was leaving his appointment, and it is far from gagging anyone.
And the directive is this: “…the Secretary’s office should be consulted on media inquiries and proposed responses to questions related to legislation, budgets, policy issues and regulations and that policy related statements should not be made to the press without notifying and consulting with the Office of the Secretary. The Departmental guidance does not, and was never intended, to cover all public-facing documents.”
All this is saying is “Hey, we don’t have a Secretary right now, so the Department doesn’t have anyone to speak for us on an official level. Please refer all your questions to the OFFICE of the Secretary”. The second sentence had to be added because of the chaos that ensued when the initial statement was issued to employees.
Basically, someone in the media got ahold of the directive and people who don’t understand how federal agencies operate took it to mean anything released needed to go through the Trump administration. And by the way, you are all under a gag order and scientific publications are no longer allowed to be released to the public. How that happened I still have no idea, but that’s the word on the street according to some less reliable news agencies.
Anytime there is a transition at the head of a department this guidance gets disseminated to the employees as a formality. As of January 13t,h there is only an acting Secretary, and until the appointed secretary gets confirmed, there is essentially no official head of the USDA. And that’s it. It was a just a formal statement given every time there is a change of leadership and an ensuing period of time with no agency head.
The email received from the Secretary’s Office goes on to further explain what the directive does NOT mean and I think it will help to share it in case anyone needs further convincing that the Trump administration did not impose a gag order of scientific research: (ARS=Agriculture Research Services)
“ARS has not blacked out public information. In fact, yesterday, the Agency published the following release to our website – https://www.ars.usda.gov/news-events/news/research-news/2017/ars-geneticist-edward-buckler-awarded-first-nas-prize-in-food-and-agriculture-sciences/ . The release acknowledges the break-through work of one of our scientists.
As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency, ARS values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public as we strive to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting America.”
So, there you have it straight from the horse’s mouth. I hope that American citizens will think a bit more critically about the information they are reading and whether it is factual, and credible. Unfortunately, we are at a time where news has become readily available at everyone’s finger tips and every media outlet is trying to have a leg up on the other. They all want to release the next big story before the other guy and this often time leads to facts not being checked and verified before they get reported. As we have seen, this is becoming increasingly common and misinformation has been running rampant the past year.
What can Americans do about this? Call these media outlets out. Demand their sources and how they verified their claims. Once we start holding the reporters and journalists accountable then they will have no other option than to report only the truth. If not, they will continue to create tension, divisions, and mistrust where there is no need for it.
We want to thank Jaclyn Alba for another significant contribution to the national dialogue. If you are in the community and are passionate about an issue, comment and share your thoughts with us and others.