At the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s typical for an incoming administration to implement a realignment of sorts—with some grants or contracts, for instance, being frozen temporarily—but a decision by President Donald Trump’s staff to order a total media blackout, as well as ban any new spending, has left some employees rattled.
After we asked yesterday for EPA employees to shed some light on what’s happening inside the agency, one source reached out to clarify that some measures—prohibiting staff from speaking directly to reporters—are far more routine than it may seem. (Reporters are well-accustomed to being directed by employees to an official spokesperson.)
However, “As best as I know, however, the social media blackout is new,” they said. “There’s always been some restrictions on what you can say during working hours/while on federal computers or property, but not talking about the EPA at all, I haven’t heard that before.”
Indeed, the EPA’s main handle on Twitter hasn’t posted anything since Jan. 20, the day Trump took office. The source added that Trump’s freeze on contracts and grants is far more excessive than his administration is letting on.
“This is really in flux, and we’ve been getting new clarifications on it constantly as everyone in admin scrambles to figure out what’s going on,” they said.
And while Trump’s staff has proffered that it’s not irregular for a new administration to take such steps, it’s having the effect of clamping down on completely mundane tasks, our source said. Like buying new pens or pencils:
The initial version we received was basically a freeze on virtually all new payments, even to the extent of using a government purchase card to buy office supplies or hire new contractors. Everything I work with that was previously approved and funded is still fine, though. More things have been exempted since then, as the senior staff discuss the issue with the onboarding team, Having at least some payments and grants frozen at the start of a transition is more or less routine, to give the new appointments time to get a feel for what we actually do and take stock of the situation, but I haven’t heard of it being quite this extensive before.
The source struck an optimistic note, saying they hope to have a “much better idea of what’s expected of us over the next week.”
The hopeful tone wasn’t unanimous. A second source who’s married to a veteran of the EPA and spoke on the condition of anonymity said their partner’s staff has basically been left in the dark. (Gender identifiers have been changed.)
One of [their] responsibilities is to disseminate internal information to the rest of the folks in [their] agency.
[They’ve] been given no instructions. There has been no communication directed toward employees in [their] office. The only way they know something is up is from stories in the media.
[They] did say that someone in the larger office above [theirs] did suggest not posting any new information online. But that was only as the result of a direct question. [They suspect] people in that level are more aware of what is going on than [their] level.
Everyone in [their] group is aware of that something’s happening but isn’t sure what to do. Otherwise, it would likely be business as usual and at some point someone would tell them to stop posting things.
[They] said that there is a requirement to list all the webinars happening in the near future, but that that is typical of any administration change, just like it isn’t unusual to be told to stop what they are doing until the new administration can get their message together. This is unusual though that no guidance has been given, typically something is communicated and it has not happened yet.
That said, it would happen at any time, [they hope] to hear something tomorrow but isn’t expecting to.
There’s a real sense of dread. We’ve gone into full cash saving mode thinking [they] may not have a job by the end of the year.
One former part-time employee who reached out planned to join the EPA after finishing their Ph.D. That won’t happen now, they said.
There was a post on your thread that said that this is normal, just another ‘regime’ change. In my experience and talks with the team there, this is absolutely not the case. At least for us.
Over the summer, as the election started to heat up, we were all very interested in the election. Our preference was with the democrats only because the republicans were talking crazy. Not because of any love for Hillary or Bernie. Even then, things were business as usual in a way. There was always a chance of ‘regime’ change.’ So we all pushed very hard to finish projects, writing reports and anything meant for peer review before new years.
Post election, its...its been All Hands On Deck. Everyone was gearing up for a shit storm but people didn’t see the choices the Trump transition team came up with. These people hate the EPA and want to dismantle it completely in order to appease their corporate overlords. The organization was shook, but there was a strong feeling that the work done and policies put forth would stand the test of time, through inertia and resistance alone. Department heads got ready for cuts by putting all new projects on hold, making sure the projects that are running will still have enough money fixed in place to go on and an real curb on any new hires (including me).
So most of Trump’s moves are surprising or weren’t prepped for. But, against based on my talks with the team I worked with, the gag order and heavy handed moves to shut down all communication, weird moves to trying to be able to subpoena individual scientists and insane all or nothing moves against the environment through executive orders has spooked people. Unlike the Dept. of Energy which is lawyering up, EPA hasn’t, which is making some very angry.
A lot of people I know there refuse to work anywhere else, but are afraid it might get bad enough that the choice isn’t theirs. All of the people, including the administrators, are afraid that 4 years of the US backsliding against the climate change fight, will have serious consequences for the country’s long term economy, standard of living and climate change risks. My own work is showing that we’re shooting past major milestones and project that to continue.
Long story short: the EPA is under siege and its drawbridge is up. I’m out of a great job.
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Update: It gets worse.
This post has been updated.