The shutdown of the U.S. federal government has provided new excuses to not provide information to the public for an administration that is already known to be hostile and evasive towards the media.
As a result of the shutdown, numerous press shops and public affairs offices have been shuttered across the federal government, making it more difficult for reporters to get responses from various departments and agencies:
- The main number at the White House public affairs office has a recording telling journalists the government shutdown has pared down the size of their staff and to either send an e-mail or leave a message. The voicemail box, however, is full.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be enforcing new regulations announced by President Obama on coal plants which could lead to massive layoffs in the coal industry. However, ninety-six percent of EPA employees were furloughed during the shutdown, including the press shop, so getting answers on such a monumental issue will not happen for some time. The voicemail recording says the press office is not available until the government reopens. The recording then tells the caller to email an inquiry.
- Although most Justice Department staffers are exempted from the government shutdown, the DOJ’s department of Public Affair’s voicemail says, “You have reached the Department of Justice’s department of public affairs. In the event of a lapse in appropriations, this message will be listened to and responded to upon a funding resolution. Thank you.”
- The Department of Commerce’s public affairs office is also unavailable, and a phone recording tells journalists to call back after a funding resolution passes in Congress. Some recordings of public affair departments or agencies where staffers were furloughed do not even specify which department a caller has contacted. The Department of Labor’s public affairs office simply tells the caller what number he or she has reached and to leave a message.
- “Thank you for your call to the press office. There’s a temporary shutdown of the U.S. government due to a lapse in appropriations. We will respond to your message as soon as possible after the temporary shutdown ends,” says the recording at the Department of Education. “Please visit Ed.gov for the latest information on the department’s operational status.” After suggesting a general e-mail address for reporters, the recording from the Department of Education then says, “Responses will be limited and the in box will be monitored sporadically. Thank you for your call.”
- The Department of the Interior and the Transportation Security Administration public affairs office also give similar responses in their voicemails.
- While most federal government websites have notices on their pages telling visitors that information may be outdated due to the government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture just shut its entire website down–in the midst of the agency issuing a salmonella warning.