Tags: state department | speech | rules | control | employees

New State Department Speech Rules Designed to Thwart Employees, Critics Say

Image: New State Department Speech Rules Designed to Thwart Employees, Critics Say
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By    |   Saturday, 22 Aug 2015 12:54 PM

A set of new, tough State Department rules that cover federal workers' speech were put in place to chill speech as the Congressional probes of Hillary Clinton's email scandal and the Benghazi attack, critics are saying, and could interfere with the proceedings.

"Any attempt by an agency to interfere with the testimony of former employees, who often feel free to be more candid about problems in their former agency, would weaken the checks and balances established by our Constitution," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement, reports FoxNews.com.

State issued the 19 pages of revised rules last month, reports the blog Diplopundit, and included wording about Congressional testimony, review times for blog and social media posts, and restrictions on current or former employees when it comes to publishing personal stories.

Peter Van Buren, an ex-foreign service officer who was forced out in 2012 after publishing a book and blog about the department's efforts in Iraq, told Fox News that the new rules "smell like bad fish," and he finds it "kind of coincidental" that they were issued during the Clinton email scandal and the upcoming Benghazi hearings.

“It looks like they are trying to chill the speech of their employees," said Van Buren.

"It's an absolute overreach," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told The Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal. "They should be able to talk to the media, they should be able to speak to Congress. They have an absolute and total right to interact with Congress. There are whistleblower protections.
That’s not a balanced approach to current and former employees' rights."

State Department spokesman Mark Toner, though, said the revisions actually "are more protective of employee speech as they establish a higher bar for limiting employees’ writing or speaking in their personal capacity, while also recognizing changing technologies in communication, such as social media."

Toner said the revisions do not change any current procedures regarding employee testimony before the courts, but instead streamline reviews and remind employees of the rules regarding sharing classified and protected information.

Van Buren, though, said the State Department "already has the tightest rules ever" when it comes to employee speech, and the revisions will make employees who are deciding whether to speak out say "I don't have a freaking chance."

The revisions define in greater deal who is covered, identifies a wide range of current foreign employees, lays out a five-day review time frame for blog posts and a two-day period for social media posting. For speeches, there is a five-day wait period, and for books, the wait period is 30 days. If there is no response to the request, the item can be published, but Van Buren said he thinks it's an "understatement to say that that a two-day-old tweet tends not to be useful."

Even if the employees publish their items if there is no response, the author can still be punished if the items contain "unacceptable content," the new state rules say.

Before, the rules just covered classified information, contracts, information that identifies people, and anything impeding a law enforcement investigation, but now, the rule has been expanded to include anything that could be potentially disclosed by the Freedom of Information Act, meaning just about anything that's published.

Van Buren, who lost his job after writing the book "We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People," was pushed into retirement after the federal government tried and failed to prove he shared classified information.

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A set of new, tough State Department rules that cover federal workers' speech were put in place to chill speech as the Congressional probes of Hillary Clinton's email scandal and the Benghazi attack, critics are saying, and could interfere with the proceedings.
state department, speech, rules, control, employees
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2015-54-22
Saturday, 22 Aug 2015 12:54 PM
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