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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U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have rescinded an order that barred its researchers from releasing “public-facing documents,” ranging from news releases and photos to social media posts.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 Tuesday about a Trump administration crackdown – particularly in light of similar limits that were placed on communications from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Late Tuesday, 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.”

Reuters reported that the USDA’s acting deputy secretary, Michael Young, sent out a memo that asks its department heads to “review their websites, blog posts and other social media and, consistent with direction you will receive from the Office of Communication, remove references to policy priorities and initiatives of the previous Administration.”

Today, BuzzFeed reported that ARS Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young sent an email to employees referencing the earlier ban. “This internal email was released prior to receiving official Departmental guidance and is hereby rescinded,” she wrote.

GeekWire confirmed that the earlier order was rescinded, and that new guidance has been sent out. The new guidance tells researchers to get approval from above before addressing questions related to policy, legislation, budgets or regulations.

President Donald Trump’s nominee for agricultural secretary, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, isn’t expected to win Senate confirmation until February.

The controversy over information flow also extends to the Interior Department, where a few rogue tweets from accounts associated with national parks ran counter to the tone set by the incoming administration.

Those tweets have been deleted. However, a Twitter account said to be supported by current and former park officials has continued criticism of the crackdown. The @AltNatParkSer team, which purportedly includes people associated with Mount Rainier National Park, gained hundreds of thousands of followers in just one day.

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