WASHINGTON - May 12 - Doing damage control on recent embarrassing disclosures, the National Park Service has directed its superintendents to obtain prior approval before they depart from "talking points" provided to them on controversial issues, according to internal emails released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Following revelations that park superintendents were supposed to mask budget cutbacks by calling them "service level adjustments," the National Park Service Headquarters (Washington Office or WASO) and regional offices have been issuing scripts or "talking points" that park superintendents must follow in communicating with the media. As one directive issued last month states:
"Interviews with media regarding budget are to be consistent with WASO talking points on 'service level adjustments' issued several weeks ago. Anything more in depth needs to be 'blessed' at region or WASO level."
Perhaps not surprisingly, the official talking points paint a rosy picture of bad news or laud Bush Administration accomplishments. Recent talking point samples include
· "Despite the challenges, NPS has fared well under President Bush
· "The Bush Administration is committed to dramatically improving air quality"; and
· "This Administration is very committed to preserving the resources of the National Park System
"Talking points are nothing new and are often useful but, in the past, this guidance did not come with gag orders attached," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization also represents U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers who is forbidden from granting media interviews without clearance from the Park Service Director or Deputy Director. "The Bush Administration is trying to turn every national park into a local re-election campaign office."
By contrast to the new talking point policy, the NPS media guide advises employees
· "Don't lie. Lies are spelled with seven letters: T-R-O-U-B-L-E."
· Don't keep secrets. Where facts are known, tell them, unless you have a good reason not to. If there is a reason to withhold facts, tell the reason."
· "Don't 'stonewall.'" [Emphasis in original]
"The reason that feel-good institutions like national parks have turned into bad news bears for the Bush Administration is solely because of misplaced attempts like this to suppress facts, hide problems and spread disinformation," Ruch added. "National park superintendents should not be forced to lie to keep their jobs."
Read Park Service "talking points" on budgets, cutbacks and clean air
View the National Park Service media guide that advises telling the truth