All you compliance officers in the corporate world, spending all your time trying to protect whistleblowers and root out retaliation risks: take a gander at the challenge your federal government counterparts have under the Trump Administration.
On Wednesday the Office of Special Counsel issued a reminder that any policies about communications from government employees—like, say, telling them to stop talking about climate change; or to stop talking entirely—must include language that those employees are still free to raise alarms about misconduct.
The announcement clearly is meant to throw shade at the Trump Administration, which earlier this week demanded that all employees at the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as scientists at the Agriculture Department, all crawl under a Cone of Silence until further notice. No press releases, blog posts, tweets, public statements, calls to reporters—no nothing.
The polite excuse here is that the Trump Administration wants no independent agencies contradicting its new policies, especially since the Administration has very few policies so far. The truth is that Donald Trump doesn’t like talk about climate change, so he wants all his “employees” to stop talking about it.
Can Trump do that? Yes, and many past administrations have imposed similar blackout statements on independent agencies as they try to get their arms around the vast babbling realm of the U.S. government. Trump simply has a more brusque way of asking for cooperation, plus a long history of imposing non-disclosure agreements on anyone he can find.
One of his NDAs turned up in a civil lawsuit last year, and you can see it’s pretty far-reaching. Trump has also said he wants federal employees to sign NDAs, so they won’t say anything nasty about him after they leave public service.
Still, much like pre-taliation clauses here in the private sector, NDAs in the government realm cannot forbid employees from blowing the whistle on misconduct either. That would violate the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which is a pet cause of Sen. Charles Grassley. Kudos to the Office of Special Counsel for stepping up and reminding people what’s right.
We would also be remiss if we didn’t give thanks to those bastions of free speech, the Twitter feeds for the Badlands National Park and the Golden Gate Bridge. Both parks fall under Interior Department auspices, and both rebelled against The Man by tweeting out facts about climate change—which is, after all, proven scientific fact.
The tweets were later erased, but hope still endures.
Apparently so do whistleblower protections in the Trump Administration, at least for now.