USDA scales back limits on scientists’ contacts

Rangeland scientist
Emilio Carillo, a rangeland scientist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, tests the new LandPKS mobile app on his smartphone. A report about the app was the subject of a tweet sent out after the USDA information ban was lifted. (USDA Photo / Jeffrey Herrick)

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have rescinded an order that barred its researchers from releasing “public-facing documents,” ranging from news releases and photos to social media posts.

Reports about the order, which first arose on BuzzFeed News, sparked widespread complaints on Jan. 24 about a Trump administration crackdown – particularly in light of similar limits that were placed on communications from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Late that day, the USDA issued a statement saying that the original email from ARS chief of staff Sharon Drumm “was released without Departmental direction, and prior to Departmental guidance being issued.”

“ARS will be providing updated direction to its staff,” the statement said. “ARS values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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