NOAA employee gag order?

Dec 11, 2003
Denton, Texas
This comes from a pretty far left-wing site so I'm skeptical about the content, but has anyone heard about this?

Supposedly, NOAA implemented a new policy requiring all employees to gain permission before speaking to the media, according to this story.

If this is true, what's the reason? Something to do with the hurricanes, or perhaps Accu-Weather?


The Department of Commerce has issued a blanket media policy to employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), requiring that all requests for contact from national media be first approved by the Department, RAW STORY has learned.

According to a leaked Sept. 29 email memo sent out to NOAA staff, including employees of the National Weather Service (NWS) -- both of which are under the Department of Commerce -- employees must collect information from reporters and forward it to the Department.
Hmm, this is pretty curious. It's a matter, that seems unusual from the NOAA, I wonder could be as you said Amos, Accu-Weather.
I'm not sure that such a policity is really uncommon -- for an organization or company to have a 'don't talk to the media' rule. When I worked at Holiday gas station in Minnesota, I know that we had a blanket policy for not talking to any media. In case of an event, we were to direct the media to the company public relations department. I know a gas station company isn't the same as a large federal organization, but I wouldn't be too surprised if NOAA had a similar policy. I think the main issue is that when, for example, an NWS employee comments on a situation, he becomes an "official" or "government" source, as if he's speaking officially on behalf of the federal government. While this doesn't matter most of the time, it doesn't seem to be uncommon for an NWS employee's off-the-cuff remarks to be misconstrued as an official statement, which can be seriously unwanted if that remark was more personal than professional.
It's believable... sounds like one of the NOAA or DOC heads is worried about being sacked.

I'd tend to believe it as well. In some ways though - I'd prefer it that way. I think in general meteorologists are poorly trained in communications - and can easily make statements to the media that will later make them look like idiots.

THREAD HIJACK ALERT - but on a similar note, I've seen rumors, yet confirmed by a reliable source but mentioned in the Democratic Congressional Science Board report on Katrina, that the Department of Homeland Security was using Accuweather for forecasts as opposed to FEMA which was using the NWS. Don't know if there is any relation - but perhaps there are efforts to shore up some of the communications of critical information to the public and other government agencies.

FWIW...this policy says "National Media". Having worked on TV for 7 years (my previous life), National Media would mean National TV Shows and stations such as The Today Show, MSNBC, CNN, etc... who normally would cover the big stuff. I think the "Local Media" would still be able to contact their local NWS office for a comment on whether a tornado caused the roof of Joe and Betty Beercan's house to fly off. Dont know for sure whether I am taking the meaning TOO literally or not...but that is what I make of it.
Supposedly, NOAA implemented a new policy requiring all employees to gain permission before speaking to the media, according to this story.
This has been the policy at NSSL ever since NOAA Public Affairs hired a PR person here in Norman about 5-6 years ago. It's really no big deal. They did offer a media training day to us a while ago. Really helps put your information into nice 10-15 second soundbites the correct way.
Greg's right. And as long as they're not trying to censor you, having a PR person around is a good thing in that most (not all!) government meteorologists possess little or no media experience, including a large subset of technologically or scientifically savvy but media-inept folks who don't know a sound bite from a sounding.

The PR person in Norman is a treasure in that way. She is great in directing reporters to the right mets for the subject matter, and in helping mets who need it (and it's a large majority, believe me) to just cut to the chase, get to the point and remember the scientific educational level of the audience (remarkably low in most cases).

[Yes, alert reader, I admit to using "multidecadal oscillation" in a recent Transcript story on hurricanes, but the reporter *wanted* to know what the cycle was called and how it works...and did a great job presenting it in his story.]

Further, employees are free to speak to the media in other capacities as long as they do NOT represent themselves as NWS or NOAA. For example, I sometimes do interviews as a storm "chaser" or an outdoor photographer, with no connection whatsoever made toward my employer. That's totally legal and cannot legally be infringed upon by the unnamed employer. I also freely and legally contact Congress and other elected officials, and write letters to the editor, in the capacity of an NWS Employees Organization (union) steward. This can be done even if speaking regarding NOAA policies and long as it is explicitly framed from the union framework and (if hardcopy) on union letterhead. Such activities are outside the bounds and breadth of NOAA regulation and cannot be touched, as long as I represent the union or myself personally, and not the agency.

NOT representing anybody but myself at this moment, of course...
If NOAA didn't have this rule before they should have. It's SOP for all government organizations to have a "no talk to media" rule. It's not like the media is your best friend. I'd trust a reporter slightly less than guy pointing a gun at me.

(ex NASA employee)
And as a reporter/editor ... I'd trust a government bureaucrat PR person about the same ...

Seriously, though, it's all about developing trust before you need the help ... I've been able to develop a pretty good relationship with the local NWS folks, and that helps when I need some input or some resources not at my fingertips ...

If we have a local weather event, I don't want to be having to go through some undersecretary in DC to get information, nor some private meteorologist in Pennsylvania who knows little or nothing about the local weather nuances, which is what Sen. Santorum wants ...