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EPA to Employees: Don’t Talk to Investigators

It comes as little surprise to reporters that the EPA warns its staff against talking to the press. But now there’s some evidence that the agency is also discouraging employees from talking to congressional investigators and even its own inspector general.

A June 16th email, leaked to the non-partisan group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), instructs managers to send friendly reminder to staffers to “not respond to questions or make any statements” to investigators or reporters and to instead direct inquiries to certain designated officials. (PEER is a national alliance of local, state and federal professionals "dedicated to upholding environmental laws.")

Interestingly, the EPA press secretary, Jonathan Shradar, told me in an interview earlier this year, that the EPA has an "unwritten policy" that employees are free to talk to the media about their work, as long as they make the press office aware of such communication. "Anyone can talk to the media," he told me. "That is fine." (I didn’t ask about congressional investigators, though.)

Here’s the text of the June 16th email, which was sent by Robbi Farrell, head of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at the agency:

Robbi Farrell/DC/USEPA

/US

06/16/2008 11:22 AM

Subject PLEASE REMIND STAFF re:

RESPONDING TO GAO, IG AND PRESS

Please remind your staff at your next staff meeting of the

following policies and procedures.

  • If you are contacted by a reporter, please forward

the call or email to Laura Gentile and Roxanne Smith, cc

Robbi. Please do not respond to questions or make any

statements.

  • If you are contacted directly by the IG’s office or

GAO requesting information of any kind, please forward

their call or email to Gwen Spriggs, cc Robbi. Please do

not respond to questions or make any statements.

Thanks very much for your continued attention to these

important procedures.

Robbi

And here’s the EPA’s response. It is a statement from spokeswoman Roxanne Smith, one of the press officers referred to in the email.

"The enforcement office issued a memo that established standard operating procedures within that office to efficiently respond to requests from GAO and EPA’s Inspector General. This procedure was developed in part to

respond to a recent IG report, "EPA can Improve its Oversight of Audit Followup," and to ensure consistency and coordination among those responding to IG and GAO reports. There is nothing in the standard operating procedures that restricts conversation between OECA staff and the IG. In fact, the IG reviewed OECA’s procedures and signed off on them. The procedures simply ensure timely responses and assist in tracking and record keeping obligations."

Ah. So the officials who are allowed to talk to investigators can get their stories straight first. That’s what "consistency and coordination" means, right?

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