Donald Trump wants to be known as the president who tweets, but his administration is placing certain restrictions on government researchers sharing their findings with the Americans who pay for their work.
The president signed executive orders Tuesday that cut off all new contracts and grants for the Environmental Protection Agency — and he also banned the agency’s employees from providing updates on social media or to journalists, the Associated Press reported.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture sent an email Monday morning, which was obtained by BuzzFeed News, prohibiting its employees from communicating with the public about their taxpayer-funded work.
Those “public-facing documents” include news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds and social media content, said Sharon Drumm, chief of staff of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
The USDA rescinded that order Wednesday, saying it had not been officially released and guidelines about its implementation had not been issued.
A Reuters analysis showed the leaked document was similar to guidelines issued in 2009 by President Barack Obama’s agriculture secretary, but the Trump administration memo was different in two key ways.
The new memo centralized the agency’s media inquiries and social media presence through the Office of the Secretary, and USDA agencies were ordered to review websites, blog posts and other social media and “remove references to policy priorities and initiatives of the previous Administration.”
The U.S. Department of the Interior reportedly ordered employees to stop posting messages on government Twitter accounts after the National Park Service a post comparing the size of Trump’s inauguration with President Barack Obama’s in 2009.
Drumm’s message did not specifically refer to Trump, but the department’s scientists believe the order was a message from the administration.
The memo was vaguely worded enough that department officials weren’t sure whether scientists are allowed to publish studies in academic journals or present findings at conferences, but the USDA’s statement clarified that those should not be blocked.
“ARS values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public,” the agency said in a statement.
A Washington Post reporter also tweeted Tuesday afternoon that taxpayer-funded economists might also be forbidden from sharing their findings with the public without approval from the Trump administration.
Hearing the White House told Commerce staffers they can't publish anything without WH approval, including market research for US exporters.
— Danielle Paquette (@DPAQreport) January 24, 2017
A University of Maine researcher issued a warning on social media that additional political attacks on scientists were coming.
“Please, stand up for science and the environment,” warned Jacquelyn Gill, a paleoecologist and biogeographer. “This is the emergency we were all worried about.”
Updates added Wednesday after the USDA rescinded the memo and Reuters compared the document to one circulated in 2009 by the Obama administration.