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Bipartisan pair of congressmen request more details on gag order reports

In the wake of media reports that the Trump administration has imposed a gag order on an unspecified number of federal agencies, a bipartisan pair of congressman sent out a letter last week to each cabinet agency requesting more information on how they are implementing any new nondisclosure directives.

In the wake of media reports that the Trump administration has imposed a gag order on an unspecified number of federal agencies, a bipartisan pair of congressman sent out a letter last week to each cabinet agency requesting more information on how they are implementing any new nondisclosure directives.

The order, reportedly implemented a week after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, bars agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture from communicating with the public and press. It is unknown how many other agencies may be affected.

Representatives Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) have asked that each agency provide more information by Feb. 20, 2017 on any new nondisclosure policies that have been implemented since January 1 and whether such an order would impact their ability to communicate agency actions to Congress. Both Connolly and Meadows sit on the House Oversight and Government Reform committee.

“Recently there have been news reports that guidance in some agencies raised concerns regarding the implications for federal employees’ personal communications including, in some instances, communications with Congress,” the letter states.

The congressmen also want to know how agencies are interpreting this new order in light of an anti-gag law that requires any nondisclosure agreement to contain language explicitly exempting federal workers who convey information that qualifies under whistleblower protection statutes or those with obligations to report relevant information to Congress.

“We want to ensure that this [anti-gag] law is fully implemented,” they write.

This inquiry follows on the heels of another letter sent by Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) to White House Counsel Donald F. McGhan in January warning that agreements may be in violation of multiple federal laws that govern what and how federal agencies communicate with outside entities.

“For more than a century, Congress has protected the rights of federal employees to communicate with Congress about waste, fraud and abuse in the Executive Branch,” the letter reads. “[We] urge you to immediately rescind all policies on employee communications that do not comply with the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act and other federal statutes.”

The Connolly letter is available at https://connolly.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=872, and the Cummings and Pallone letter is available at https://democrats-oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/documents/2017-01-26.EEC%20and%20Pallone%20to%20White%20House%20Counsel%20re.%20Agency%20Directives%20to%20Silence%20Employees.pdf.

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Derek Johnson is a freelance writer with a Master's degree in public policy. His other work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.

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