The EPA has issued an ethics reminder to employees stating that they are “free to express yourself about matters that are important to you, including ones that relate to EPA. But, when you do express yourself in the workplace or EPA (which is your workplace), there are three things you should bear in mind: the federal ethics rules continue to apply to you as they always have; the rules depend on whether you are speaking in your official EPA capacity or your individual personal capacity; and your expression of your views in the workplace needs to comply with agency orders prohibiting conduct that is “abusive or offensive,” or that constitutes harassment,” it says.
Government-wide ethics policies to remember, it says, include those governing misuse of position, conflicts of interest, use of government equipment for personal purposes, and fundraising and political activity in the workplace–and those rules “have not changed because we have a new administration.”
The general counsel’s office electronic memo to the workforce says: “When speaking or writing, including blogging and in social media, you should be clear in what capacity you are communicating . . . Typically, an activity is undertaken in official capacity when it is consistent with statutory authority and agency or office mission and assigned duties. When working in your official capacity, you can use EPA time and resources, including EPA email address, EPA phone number, EPA equipment and property and, if applicable, subordinates.
“To participate in individual personal capacity, we urge you not to use your EPA email address or contact information and, if possible, not refer to EPA position or title. If you feel you must refer to your EPA position or title, then the prudential advice is to do so as one of several biographical details with EPA not having any undue prominence. You should be clear you are expressing an individual personal opinion, not speaking on behalf of the agency. While the agency does have a limited personal use policy that allows some personal use of EPA equipment such as computers, if expressing a personal opinion publicly on a subject, it is safest to avoid the use of EPA equipment,” it says.
It further called attention to EPA’s own policies against “displaying offensive materials or engaging in conversations that constitute abusive or offensive language, gestures, or other conduct,” as well as against conduct that is “threatening, intimidating, and/or bullying.”