Thursday, April 22, 2010

Forest Service says its law-enforcement officers can't talk to local media without D.C. permission

A memo obtained by the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reveals that the U.S. Forest Service has prohibited its law-enforcement and investigations (LEI) employees from speaking with local media without approval from the Washington office. PEER said the policy "stifles timely access to crime, fire and accident reports and flouts the Obama administration's promise of greater government transparency," Phil Taylor of Environment & Energy Daily reports. One correspondence obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request showed that a request from an unamed small weekly newspaper in Tucson, for an interview about smuggling activities in the Coronado National Forest, went unanswered for over a week.

"Until further notice all LEI employees are on stand-down from communicating with local and or national media contacts without clearance from the Director, LEI and Press Office, Media desk in the Washington Office," David Ferrell, the agency's LEI director, wrote in the memo, dated Sept. 1, 2009. The memo also "barred employees from offering presentations, media conferences, briefings or press releases regarding law-enforcement matters without prior approval from the director," Taylor writes.

Ferrell's memo followed one in August from Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell clarifying the agency's position on permission before granting interviews with national media. "The trigger word is national -- be it a national news outlet or national issue," Tidwell wrote. "The national media is extremely important, thus we must exercise an extra level of care to ensure that accurate information is provided." Forest Service spokesman Joseph Walsh said he wasn't able to comment on the agency's policy on contact between LEI personnel and media, but Tidwell's memo about "communications with national news media was not a departure from the normal Forest Service policy," Taylor writes. (Read more)

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