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For Immediate Release: Sep 23, 2002
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

PARK SERVICE FORBIDS OFF-DUTY STAFF FROM WRITING ABOUT WORK ISSUES WITHOUT APPROVAL


Washington, DC - The National Park Service (NPS) has forbidden staff from privately publishing material on any work-related topic without approval from the agency, according to a directive released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).Today PEER sent a letter to NPS Director Fran Mainella requesting retraction of the order and removal of the manager who authored it.

In a September 16 memo on "Employee Ethical Responsibilities and Conduct" addressed to all employees in the Intermountain Region, NPS warns that any violations "will subject employees to disciplinary action (up to and including removal)."One of the 19 rules spelled out in the memo concerns "Non-Official Expression":

"Employees who are writing or speaking on a topic which is generally related to their work, are expressing themselves as private citizens and not as representatives of the Department, are communicating under the concept of non-official expression, regardless of whether they are receiving payment for it. A notice of intention to publish non-official expression and certificate of compliance must be submitted through proper channels to the Regional Public Affairs Officer who will forward a recommendation to the Assistant Regional Director, Human Resources for approval."

The memo does not specify what is required to obtain a "certificate of compliance" or what standards will be employed to approve submittals. It is also unclear whether the order covers employee interviews with reporters that are later published.

"It's apparent that the National Park Service needs to be reminded again that its employees are American citizens with First Amendment rights," commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch."Aside from its unconstitutionality, this order violates laws that prohibit the use of federal funds for 'non-disclosure' policies that fail to explicitly protect communications to Congress, whistleblower disclosures and other reports employees make as private citizens."

Last year, PEER represented a ranger from Yellowstone National Park who was given a similar gag order barring off-duty discussion of work-related issues. In settling that case, NPS rescinded the gag order and promised to post a free speech policy."What the Park Service has just issued is clearly an anti-free speech policy," Ruch commented.

Yellowstone National Park (WY) is part of the NPS Intermountain Region that covers parks in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. This eight-state area stretches from Grand Canyon N.P. (AZ) in the south to Glacier N.P. (MT) in the north, from Zion N.P. (UT) in the west to Big Bend N.P. (TX) in the east.

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Read the NPS directive.

Read PEER's letter to NPS Director Fran Mainella.