After Backlash, USDA Lifts Gag-Order On Taxpayer-Funded Research

Posted January 26, 2017

While some say a communications lockdown is standard operating procedure in times of presidential transition - and indeed this happened in a similar fashion when Barack Obama took office in 2009 - others hold the view that the Trump administration as trying to quash scientific research. Harvest Public Media has confirmed the memo directed researchers not share "public-facing documents".

Following a report from BuzzFeed News about a lockdown of USDA scientists within the single department of the federal agency of 90,000, multiple outlets reported that Trump's administration was silencing agencies from speaking to the public.

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The Department of Agriculture has reportedly lifted an order that called for scientists and employees of its research arm not to release any of its work to the public. The EPA had its grants frozen and is now fighting to keep its pages on climate change live, the National Parks Service (or at least their social media interns) went rogue, and the CDC canceled a major conference on health and climate change.

The impact of even a temporary order restricting communication remains to be seen, but there are fears both inside and outside of USDA that the Trump Administration plans to control research and communication at federal agencies in unprecedented ways. However, just yesterday Gizmodo reported that the Trump Administration froze all EPA grants and told staffers not to speak with the public. Monday afternoon, the Associated Press reported that the EPA was under a "media blackout" - meaning it can not issue press releases, blog posts or social media updates to communicate its most recent findings. President Trump's choice for new agriculture secretary, former Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia, is also a critic of science-based climate change research. However, in a statement, USDA said peer-reviewed scientific papers from the unit should not be blocked, adding that ARS "is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between scientists and the American public".

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The extent to which these orders will hamper ongoing research at the USDA are unclear.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the National Parks Service and the Department of Health and Human Services have also been told to limit their communication with the public.

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