The Trump administration has ordered a temporary media blackout for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and has instituted a freeze on hirings and grants. EPA staff have been prohibited from releasing press releases and updating the agency's blog or social media accounts.
According to The Associated Press (AP), Trump also ordered a temporary suspension of all new business activities at the agency. The orders are expected to have a significant impact on the EPA as it holds contracts with outside vendors for services ranging from research to engineering.
The EPA was ordered to forward all media inquiries to the Office of Administration and Resource Management. "Incoming media requests will be carefully screened," one directive viewed by the AP said. "Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press."
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday (24 January) that he did not have information regarding the media gag order. Spicer told reporters that aides were investigation.
Meanwhile, Doug Ericksen, the communications director for Trump's transition team at the EPA, told the AP that he expects the communications ban to be lifted this week. "We're just trying to get a handle on everything and make sure what goes out reflects the priorities of the new administration," Ericksen said.
Ericksen also clarified that the EPA contracts and grants freeze does not apply to pollution cleanup efforts or infrastructure construction activities. State and local agencies depending on the EPA for funding told the AP they had not received information from the agency about the freeze.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility executive director Jeff Ruch noted that the directives from the Trump administration go beyond those passed by previously transition teams. "We're watching the dark cloud of Mordor extend over federal services," Ruch said, referencing the evil kingdom of The Lord of the Rings.
The Trump administration has issued similar communication bans at other federal agencies, including the departments of Agriculture and Interior, the AP reported. The Agriculture Department was also ordered not to release any documents to the public.
"This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds and social media content," said an email to staff at the agency's Agricultural Research Service. ARS spokesman Christopher Bentley said the ban did not include scientific publications released in peer-reviewed professional journals.
After a brief hiatus on Twitter, the Interior Department returned with an apology. The Trump administration had ordered the National Park Services to stop tweeting after a message regarding crowd size at the inauguration was sent, The Hill reported. Thomas Crosson, spokesman for the National Park Services, told The Washington Post the tweets were "inconsistent with the agency's approach to engaging the public through social media".
Key posts at the EPA, including Trump's nominee for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, have not yet been filled. This leaves the agency without new senior personnel to make important decisions.