Why are some federal agencies under a reported media lockdown?

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JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, one other story that has been getting much attention about these first few days of the Trump administration: Are government agencies being silenced from their normal way of communicating with the public? And is this administration going further than its predecessors?

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN: Reports continued today from several news outlets that the Trump administration has tried to limit the flow of information from key government agencies, many involved in environmental and scientific research.

Among them, according to The Washington Post, Associated Press and others, the Environmental Protection Agency, where staff are reportedly banned from sending press releases or posting to the agency’s social media accounts. Similar orders were allegedly issued within the Departments of Interior and Agriculture.

Officials from the USDA later told reporters the order was improperly issued and not cleared by senior leadership.

Meanwhile, at the White House today, Press Secretary Sean Spicer disputed the broader claims altogether.

SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: No, no, there’s nothing that’s come from the White House.

JEFFREY BROWN: In a separate interview with NPR, however, a spokesman for the Trump transition team at the EPA did say agency scientists will likely have their research reviewed on a case-by-case basis before being released publicly.

Juliet Eilperin has been looking into these developments for The Washington Post. She joins us now.

So, Juliet, a certain amount of confusion at this point. How much do we know about whether the administration is attempting to silence these agencies?

JULIET EILPERIN, The Washington Post: Well, there are certainly — there are some agencies where there have been clear efforts by new members of the administration who are restricting the communication.

Now, other administrations have also sought to get everyone on the same page. They seem — these new administration officials seem to be going further, and, in some cases, they’re quite restrictive.

So, just it kind of depends on a case-by-case basis, but there is no question that there is a clampdown on direct communication with the public in some of these agencies.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, before I ask you for an example, but go back to that comparison. There is always a normal changeover, right? And so does this look more like a temporary pause in these agencies, or is this on a different scale?

JULIET EILPERIN: It certainly seems to be more severe in terms of some individual agencies.

And also, because of advances in technology, they’re simply more forms of communication. There weren’t, you know, tons of Twitter accounts back when the Obama administration took over. So, you know, it is certainly being done in a visible way. And it is affecting more platforms, and that is something that is different.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so take an example. A lot of focus, of course, on the EPA, for example, restricting social media, when papers can be published. Some talk now about whether there is a review of the Web site, specifically about the climate change information there. What do we know so far?

JULIET EILPERIN: At that agency, it’s very clear that you have officials who are restricting the level of communication, both in terms of, again, these social media accounts, press releases, other kinds of communication, as well as the fact that they are indicating on the record that they will regulate kind of what communications scientists can have with the public in certain instances.

So that is something that is significant. Now, in terms its of the website, which is something we have been looking very carefully into, the EPA has many webpages devoted to climate, sharing data, things like that. There was an effort to explore taking it down, and career staff there resisted. And, as a result, they are now not going to do that.

But that did happen. But there was this effort, but then it was reversed later on.

JEFFREY BROWN: You heard Sean Spicer say today it is not a White House effort. Where would it be coming from, if not from there? Could it be the agencies themselves sort of taking proactive steps?

JULIET EILPERIN: It seems like it’s a combination of new appointees in some of these agencies and to some extent career officials responding to what they think are messages they might have gotten from the administration more broadly.

Sean Spicer, as you noted and as you explained, is on the record saying they are not directing this. But there is no question that this is something that certainly has transpired since President Trump has taken office.

JEFFREY BROWN: And to go from the EPA to some other agencies, a common thread or some of the focus clearly is on scientific data, specifically around climate change, correct?

JULIET EILPERIN: Right, that is something that certainly surfaced at USDA, although, again, they reversed themselves over time.

What is interesting about the Interior Department is they are restricting a huge amount of communication, including with, say, tribes, which potentially can raise questions of sovereignty. So, it is not just a question of a tweet, which is kind of one of the things Sean Spicer was talking about. It is really about, how are you communicating, whether it’s your research or your policies, to the broader public?

JEFFREY BROWN: And are you able to talk to people inside these agencies? What kind of concerns are you hearing?

JULIET EILPERIN: Many of the career officials are quite scared right now. There is no question.

Now, I think we will see how this plays out. Again, there are — there have been these tensions early on in previous administrations. And so what we are looking for are what are the decisions past this initial flurry of activity that will really set the ground rules for, to what extent can federal officials share what they know and what they are finding out with the public, whether it’s through the media or directly?

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, thank you very much.

JULIET EILPERIN: Thanks so much, Jeff.

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