The USDA yesterday became the latest federal agency to give Americans a Trump-induced heart attack. In an email published by BuzzFeed that morning, it instructed researchers not to “release any public-facing documents” until “further notice.” Per the memo, all employees in the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service unit — including 2,000 scientists — were banned “immediately” from disseminating any kind of information, regardless of how innocuous. “This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content,” it explained.
People instantly started blasting the gag order (which was going down at the same time the Badlands National Park account went rogue and started brazenly tweeting scientific facts about climate change):
Much like with White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s war on Dippin’ Dots, once the public outcry got deafening, the agency backed away from its position. The USDA has no secretary yet, and acting as deputy administrator, Michael Young told reporters he’d actually sent out a memo of his own that morning listing “interim procedures” until Trump’s pick is confirmed, and it contradicted portions of the ARS email. Young, who noted he’s a “career official,” not a partisan appointee, then stressed that the USDA isn’t in the business of putting gag orders on things like press releases and food-safety announcements. “I would not have put that kind of guidance out,” he said, adding that “I had my memo drafted before the ARS memo,” before then lamenting: “I don’t want any surprises on my watch. I was trying to avoid any surprises.”
Around that time, the ARS finally sent out a second memo telling everybody to stick a fork in this ban: “Yesterday, we sent an email message about Agency informational products like news releases and social media content,” it read. “This internal email was released prior to receiving official Departmental guidance and is hereby rescinded.”