Trump Appointee Hires "Thought Police" to Monitor His Employees

You know there is a huge problem when the head of a government agency is so hostile to his own employees and their basic mission that he insists on having a large team of armed police escort him everywhere, including within his own office building. Donald Trump’s EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, has demonstrated such a profound unwillingness to protect America’s environment and has treated his employees so badly, that he now insists on such protection even when solely in the company of the employees he oversees.


The New York Times has recently reported that the EPA has hired a “media consulting” company in a no-bid contract that is systematically demanding access to, and searching through, the emails of Agency employees suspected of not supporting Pruitt. (Hint: the answer to who at the EPA does not support eliminating environmental protections is, no surprise, nearly everyone. Individuals did not seek employment at the EPA because they wanted to hurt the environment.) In short, the EPA now has “thought police” targeting those who, ironically enough, possess what has apparently a negative attribute: caring about protecting the environment. This is an extraordinary development involving tactics employed by authoritarian regimes and dictators from third world countries. It is frightening to see it happen in the United States, especially where, as here, Pruitt’s decisions are being made in direct contradiction of incontrovertible science. 


Among dozens of other actions – all designed to eliminate environmental protection for Americans and our nation’s resources – Pruitt has reversed rules that protect water purity, authorized dangerous pesticide use, and is reversing plans to fight climate change. He has taken down scientific information from the Agency’s web site on numerous subjects including climate change. He denies that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas despite access to hundreds of Agency scientists who could explain the science to him, including why his views are dangerously wrong. Yet the public record is clear that on many topics he has no interest in making informed decisions based upon scientific evidence. Rather, he shills for industry groups of many stripes. To avoid being contradicted, he excludes EPA experts from conferences, he bars them from advising him or attending meetings he schedules with industry representatives, and he prevents meaningful debate through organizing presentations by only those who supports his views. His positions not only promote ignore, he insists upon it.  


The First Amendment is premised upon the notion that, rather than suppress bad ideas, our country needs to promote the advancement of better ones through robust conversation. Discussion, not suppression, helps us arrive at the best possible solutions. Yet we now have the EPA using taxpayer monies to intimidate and silence knowledgable experts by threatening them for expressing ideas. One agency employee wrote a letter to Pruitt to express thoughts and concerns about certain actions he announced he would take. The letter was respectful in tone. In response, the media group filed freedom of information act demands to gain access to the employee’s emails. The employee understood, as did many others who had spoken out in various manners that his career was being threatened. The unmistakable message was shut up or lose your job, even though his job is to protect that environment, not hurt it.   


Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse characterized this effort to search emails by explaining, “We have seen a lot of nefarious activities from Trump. But hiring a fossil fuel front group that specializes in political hits and is doing FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] investigations on your agency’s own employees is a new low.”


The concern is not just limited to Democrats. Former Republican appointed EPA Administrator William Reilly said, “These are committed people. It’s not just a job to them. To put their morale and their good standing in danger is going to risk losing something very valuable to the government and to the country.”


In many ways what is happening at the EPA is emblematic of the wider dangers facing our nation from the Trump presidency. Rather than explain what it wants to do and why, and allow a reasonable debate, the Trump Administration supports legislation without hearings, stifles dissent, ridicules time honored process, and demeans any part of government that stands up to him in the pursuit of truth and performs their jobs as they were created to do. 


(Craig Benedict, a retired federal prosecutor, wrote this article.)

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