According to an agency spokesman, the social-media hiatus will continue until an EPA administrator has been officially confirmed. But the reasons for the freeze in the meantime remain unclear.
Last month’s media restrictions were instituted by Trump administration officials within days of the inauguration. The order instructed employees of the EPA, along with other agencies including the Interior and Agriculture departments, to restrict their communications with the public via news releases and official social-media accounts. A memo to EPA staff members, sent on Jan. 23, noted that a digital strategist would be coming on board to oversee social-media accounts, some of which it said may become “more centrally controlled.”
At the time, the blackout was billed as a “short pause” by agency officials. Indeed, other federal agencies — the Interior and Agriculture departments included — resumed social-media activity almost immediately and have gone on tweeting as usual. Other science-heavy agencies, including NASA and NOAA, are also communicating normally on Facebook and Twitter.
But nearly all the EPA’s social-media accounts have been silent since Jan. 19. A small group of satellite accounts, including Twitter accounts for a few regional EPA offices and the EPA’s Office of Water, continued to tweet for a few more days following the Jan. 20 inauguration, but also fell silent before the end of the month. The agency has continued to issue news releases on its website.
In a statement to The Washington Post, an EPA spokesman said that “EPA will resume social media activity when we have a confirmed Administrator.” Trump’s pick for administrator, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate for the position. Pruitt, who has been involved in multiple lawsuits against the EPA as an attorney general, remains one of the more controversial Cabinet nominees — his appointment has been opposed by environmentalists, former EPA employees and Democrats in Congress, who recently boycotted a committee vote on his nomination.
However, the EPA is far from the only federal agency that still remains without a leader. The Energy, Interior and Agriculture departments are just a few whose heads have yet to be officially confirmed — yet those agencies have remained active on social media in the meantime. The reason for this discrepancy remains unknown, although it continues a pattern of particularly close attention to the EPA, compared with other federal agencies, under the new administration.
In addition to last month’s media blackout, Trump administration officials also instructed the EPA to place a temporary freeze, later lifted, on all grants and contracts. More recently, the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology held a hearing dedicated to “making the EPA great again,” which focused on potential changes to the way the agency conducts and uses science in its regulatory processes. The hearing’s proceedings were criticized by Democrats, who expressed concern that the committee was attacking the agency’s freedom to conduct good science and pointed out that all three panelists called to testify by the Republican majority had industry associations.
It’s unclear whether any of these events are related to the agency’s current social-media hiatus. And as Pruitt’s confirmation remains up in the air, it’s also unclear how long it will last.