When Is a Policy Not a Policy? When Reporters Want To Talk to EPA Staff

June 11, 2014

In quantum mechanics, a thing can both be there and not be there at the same time. So it is with EPA's press policy. The universe is wondrous.

For some years now, under multiple administrations, journalists who have called EPA scientists and other experts asking to talk to them about matters large and small have almost universally been told something like, "I'm not allowed to talk to news media without Press Office permission." Moreover, interviews must often be conducted with Soviet-style "minders" present in person or on the phone.

But for years, various EPA officials, including some from the press office, have maintained stoutly that they do not actually "have" a press policy. At least not in the sense of one that is written down and distributed to staff to communicate a directive from the agency's management, as such, in a way that anybody could be held accountable for, or in a way that could legally be enforced. Or embarrass anyone in any way.

The WatchDog for years has wondered how agency employees could be so intimidated by a policy that does not exist.

The first of what will be an ongoing series of requests were filed June 10, 2014. You can see the text of the two FOIAs here (tracking number EPA-HQ-2014-007302) and here (tracking number EPA-HQ-2014-007305).

We will keep you posted on how this goes and what we learn.

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