Interior Department officials have warned senior employes in California that they may be fired if they are quoted in news reports critical of the agency or Secretary James G. Watt.
An employe who took notes on the June 29 meeting at which the warning was issued sent them to his congressman, Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-Calif.), asking for an investigation into "a blatant violation of our Constitution."
Public Information Officer Jerry King, who issued the warning to employes of the Bureau of Reclamation's Sacramento regional office, confirmed the employe's account as "fairly accurate." He said he was not ordered by Washington officials to clamp down on press contacts, but added that he did not have to be. "I didn't imagine the whole thing out of my forehead," King said. "I based it more on a keen grasp of the obvious."
King noted that many national controversies involve Interior Department issues, particularly the proposed sale of millions of acres of public lands, accelerated offshore oil development, and water rights. "Our people are geologists, engineers, biologists, hydrologists," King said. "They simply are not equipped to be involved in a national controversy. The potential exists that they could find themselves in serious trouble."
The employe described himself in a cable to Matsui as an engineer who had worked for Interior under several administrations. He signed it "anonymous for obvious reasons." His notes of King's warning follow:
RULES FOR LIVING:
The department will be keeping a low profile between now and the November elections.
RULES TO LIVE OR DIE BY:
1. Program person is not to submit to interviews by the press.
2. PIO public information officer must be present at media contacts.
3. PIO must tape-record all contacts.
4. All Washington Post contacts must be referred to the Bureau's chief PIO Cheryl Reedmiller Riedmiller .
5. Federal Register notices must be accompanied by a fact sheet rather than a press release as in the past .
6. Program people mid-level bureaucrats are not to be identified in news releases--only policy people bureau chiefs and their bosses .
7. Local PIOs and/or source of story will be held accountable for the story--no excuses.
8. Any story judged critical of the secretary or department programs, or critical of the administration is a bad story.
9. Source of story (bad story) risks job loss.
TO STAY ALIVE, YOU HAVE THREE OPTIONS:
1. Refuse to be interviewed.
2. Gamble that the story is not a bad story.
3. Dodge--pass the buck to Jerry King, Cheryl Reedmiller or Mike head of the bureau's Sacramento office. Whatever, call Jerry immediately.