The past week has seen Donald Trump attempt to suppress the free speech of scientists and analysts within the government. The departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency were ordered by the White House to clam up. The prohibition on communications applied to website posts, press releases, and social media such as Twitter.
These gag orders were mainly directed at agencies providing information related to healthcare and climate change. Trump has made it a priority of his administration to halt any progress on those issues. Even worse, he aims to roll back whatever was done during the Obama administration. But his path may not be all that clear.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is charged with protecting government employees who report malfeasance within federal offices. Whistleblowers often come forward to reveal official corruption or misrepresentation at significant personal risk. However, they are protected by statute from retaliation. It is the responsibility of the OSC to enforce those laws.
Consequently, the OSC responded to the news reports about Trump’s efforts to silence federal employees working on the affected issues. They released a memorandum reminding the administration, and the employees, that certain rights exist that cannot be denied. It’s title is “OSC’s Enforcement of the Anti-Gag Order Provision in Whistleblower Law” and says in part:
“The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is releasing information on its enforcement of the anti-gag order provision in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). The WPEA, passed unanimously in both the House and Senate in 2012, strengthened anti-retaliation protections for federal workers. Under the anti-gag provision, agencies cannot impose nondisclosure agreements and policies that fail to include required language that informs employees that their statutory right to blow the whistle supersedes the terms and conditions of the nondisclosure agreement or policy.”
This is a direct swipe at Trump’s attempts to muzzle those working on climate science and healthcare projects. It also anticipates his penchant for shackling his employees with burdensome non-disclosure agreements. The memo reminds everyone concerned that the WPEA:
“…explicitly shields employees for blowing the whistle on any effort to ‘distort, misrepresent, suppress’ or otherwise censor any government ‘research, analysis, or technical information’ that the employee reasonably believes could, among other things, pose a substantial and significant threat to public health or safety or constitute a violation of law, rule, or regulation.”
“Nondisclosure agreements and policies can chill would-be whistleblowers from coming forward. These orders must clearly state that federal employees have a right to make disclosures of wrongdoing.”
So going forward, the Trump team has been put on notice that any further attempts to suppress communications from protected parties is expressly prohibited. Furthermore, any orders that address such communications must also contain language that informs the employees of their rights.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
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It seems unthinkable that a reminder like this is necessary. But in the Era of Trump there is much that would have previously been considered unthinkable. It’s good to know that there are still some dedicated public servants protecting the interests of the federal workforce and, by extension, the American people and the democracy upon which free expression relies.