Reports of a black out on public information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service are vastly overblown.

ARS Chief of Staff Sharon Drumm did send out a three-line email Tuesday to the agency’s 2,000 scientists to let them know the agency would not be releasing any “public facing documents” until further notice.

Those “public facing” documents include news releases, photos, fact sheets and social media posts. Anyone inside BUCKLER_406X250the agency who wanted to pursue the issue was directed to contact ARS Communications Director Christopher S. Bentley.

For Bentley, its been business as usual. His shop on Monday put out a big package on ARS geneticist Edward Buckler for being awarded the first National Academy of Science’s prize for Food and Agriculture Sciences. Buckler was recognized for his pioneering use of large-scale genomic approaches to associate genes with crop trials.

Bentley said ARS scientists have always been free to work directly and without agency supervision on scientific papers that are released through peer-reviewed journals. Many such papers are published annually.

“As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency, ARS values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public as we strive to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting America,” Bentley said.

The last Cabinet appointment to be made by President Trump was Secretary of Agriculture-designate Sonny Perdue on Jan. 19. His confirmation process may take until mid-February.

USDA sources told Food Safety News that it is normal during transitions between presidential administrations for federal agencies to be hesitant about commenting on issues like legislation, budgets, policy issues and regulations because first and foremost these topics fall under the secretary of agriculture’s bailiwick. Those are all topics Perdue is sure to be quizzed about by the Senate Agriculture Committee in the days ahead.

Temporarily going silent as an agency as USDA has done is different than orders being issued prohibiting staff from commenting on various grants and contracts that are being eliminated by the new administration, as has reportedly occurred at the Environmental Protection Agency.

At USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) its not confusion about communications policy that is getting the attention during the transition. Instead, it’s Al Almanza’s titles.

On the morning of Jan. 20, Almanza was deputy undersecretary for food safety and acting FSIS administrator. Then, the moment Trump became president, Almanza became FSIS administrator and acting deputy under secretary for food safety.

As administrator and acting administrator, Almanza has been the boss at FSIS, which has 10,000 employees, since 2007. He’s now led the agency under three presidents.

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