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500.5 - News Release and Media Relations Policy



Issuance Number:     500.5

Subject:                        USGS News Release and Media Relations Policy

Issuance Date:             12/9/2021

Expiration Date:         12/7/2026

Responsible Office:    Office of Communications and Publishing

Instruction:                 This supersedes Survey Manual (SM) chapter 500.5, News Release and Media Relations Policy, dated July 10, 2015.  

Approving Official:     /s/  Roseann Gonzales-Schreiner

                                       Deputy Director for Administration and Policy

1.    Purpose.  This SM chapter establishes the policy and procedures governing the official public communications of employees of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and identifies the laws, regulations, and standards governing other public communications of USGS employees regarding USGS programs, operations, or activities.  It establishes standards for excellence in public communications in order to promote broad public understanding of and support for the USGS mission and the work of its employees.

2.    Scope

 A.  This SM chapter applies to all USGS programs, offices, and employees.  Volunteers are not permitted to represent USGS to the media.  Participants in the USGS Emeritus Program must comply with applicable Fundamental Science Practices (FSP) policy and obtain written permission from the appropriate Center Director prior to interacting with the media.  

B.  This SM chapter covers the release of information to the public by USGS employees through the news and information media, whether through verbal, print, or electronic means.  It governs the release of information that has the potential to generate news media coverage, public interest or inquiry, as well as more routine information (except as noted in part C below).  Examples include, but are not limited to:

(1)  News media requests for official interviews on USGS-related issues and actions, whether from print, broadcast, Web-based, or social media;

(2)  News releases, advisories, and bulletins;

(3)  Speeches and statements about official USGS business for public release;

(4)  Letters to the editor, opinion pieces, and other editorial products expressing the USGS’s viewpoint on USGS-related issues and actions; and

(5)  Similar information about USGS science posted or distributed using electronic methods, such as social media and Web site postings.

C.  This SM chapter does not apply to the development, submission, and release of scientific, scholarly, and technical information products produced as a result of official activities submitted to or published in peer-reviewed scientific, scholarly, or technical publications.

3.    Objectives.  The objectives of this SM chapter are to:

A.  Ensure USGS scientists clearly understand and comply with our obligation to release information to the public that is clear, accurate, and up to date;

B.  Convey what constitutes an official expression of USGS science, policy, or opinion, and what differentiates speaking in an official capacity from speaking in a personal capacity;

C.  Provide procedures by which USGS scientists may speak to the media and the public about scientific matters based on their official work and areas of expertise;

D.  Provide procedures to ensure the review of communication products and official statements results in the scientific accuracy of these materials; and

E.  Maintain the integrity of USGS science by ensuring scientific findings are not altered by anyone communicating on behalf of the USGS.

4.    Authority.

A.  Departmental Manual (DM), 470 DM 1, Public Communications – General Policy and Procedures

B.  Standards for Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch (5 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 2635).

C.  Hatch Act (5 U.S. Code (U.S.C.) §§ 7321-7326)

5.    References.

A.  305 DM 3, Integrity of Scientific and Scholarly Activities

B.  383 DM 15, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Policy, Responsibilities, and Procedures

C.  SM 500.25, Scientific Integrity

D.  SM 502.4, Fundamental Science Practices: Review, Approval, and Release of Information Products

E.  SM 205.18, Authority to Approve Information Products

F.  5 U.S.C. § 552, Public information; agency rules, opinions, orders, records, and proceedings

6.    Definitions.

A.  Public Communication.  Public communication is the release of information to the public through press (news) releases, media advisories, media events, feature stories, media interviews, speeches, statements about official business for public release, letters to the editor, opinion pieces, live or recorded interviews, podcasts, social media, internet postings, and by other means.  There are two types of public communication:

(1)  Official Public Communication is public communication made by USGS employees or approved Emeritus Program participants in their official capacity on behalf of the agency concerning USGS science, activities, decisions, or opinions; and

(2)  Personal Public Communication is public communication made by USGS employees or approved Emeritus Program participants in their personal capacity.  Such communications are not made by the individual on behalf of the USGS. 

Both official and personal communication must comply with the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Executive Branch Employees, the Hatch Act, and all other applicable ethics authorities.

B.  News Media.  The definition of “news media” is changing given the proliferation of blogs, websites, podcasts, and other information channels that bear little resemblance to traditional news media outlets.  The following definition from the Open Government Act of 2007 includes the types of inquiries that are covered by this policy:

A “representative of the news media” means any person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience. The term “news” means information that is about current events or that would be of current interest to the public.

Examples of news media entities are television or radio stations broadcasting to the public, and print and electronic outlets that distribute news and editorial content to the public.  Many private-sector and non-governmental organizations and government entities operate magazines, websites, and other distribution channels that also provide news and editorial content to their members and constituents and are also considered news media for the purposes of this policy.  These examples are not all-inclusive, and other entities, such as independent bloggers, may be considered to be news media as methods of news delivery evolve.

For questions about whether an individual or organization is a member of the news media, contact your servicing Office of Communications and Publishing (OCAP) office.

C.  Significant Publications, Announcements, or Decisions.  A significant publication, official announcement, decision, or communication involves at least one of the following:

(1)  Controversial issues, actions, or opinions;

(2)  High-profile topics;

(3)  Significant policy implications for the Department of the Interior (Department) or other Federal, state, tribal, or local agencies or partners;

(4)  A requirement for public notification in the Federal Register or other outlets to meet the requirements of Federal law;

(5)  It is an administration priority and (or) may offer outreach opportunities for the Bureau, its Director, or the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary); or

(6)  It is likely to generate national or regional news media coverage, or congressional or stakeholder interest.

D.  Scientific or Scholarly Articles.  An article is considered scientific or scholarly if it is published in a scientific journal and has been peer reviewed.  Scientific articles (including USGS series publications, conference proceedings, meeting abstracts, and other similar scientific products) are not considered news media communications as described in this SM chapter and must be reviewed and approved in accordance with USGS FSP policy.  Similarly, scientific analysis of or commentary on other scientific works, when published in scientific journals, are not covered by this SM chapter and must also be reviewed and approved in accordance with FSP policy.

E.  Employee.  For the purposes of this policy, ‘employee’ hereafter refers to anyone officially conducting activities on behalf of the USGS.

7.    Policy.

As an integral part of its mission, the USGS has a responsibility to keep the public informed of its various programs, activities, and research.  It is incumbent on USGS to use the news media, web-based, and social media products and other communications channels to report, explain to, and interpret for the public USGS science, programs, and activities.

The USGS supports a culture of openness with the news media and the public that values the free exchange of ideas, data, and information and that provides for the dissemination of accurate scientific, scholarly, technical, and management information.  USGS is committed to keeping its constituencies and the general public informed, and welcomes public interest in its programs and activities through news media coverage and other forms of communications.

USGS media relations policy conforms to FSP that provide USGS scientists the ability to discuss their scientific endeavors openly with the public.  Those practices and other Federal guidelines stipulate that Federal employees must not release confidential, deliberative, pre-decisional, preliminary, or otherwise protected information unless specifically granted permission to do so or as permitted under FSP.

Accordingly, it is USGS policy to:

A.  Communicate with the news media to demonstrate the value of USGS science to identified audiences;

B.  Use clear, concise language, avoid jargon, limit the use of technical terms in public communications wherever possible, and explain any necessary technical terms for a general audience;

C.  Ensure that information provided to the news media and the public is accurate and delivered in a timely manner, and that disclosure is maximized consistent with FOIA requirements and intentions (see 383 DM 15 for FOIA policy and procedures);

D.  Comply with all applicable ethics laws and requirements, including the Hatch Act, and uphold high standards of ethical conduct for all USGS employees;

E.  Maintain the political impartiality, policy neutrality, and scientific objectivity of the agency (see Section 8, Neutrality and Impartiality); and

F.  Ensure that employees may speak directly with the news media and share information, subject to the following conditions:

(1)  Employees may provide reporters with routine information within their area of expertise (e.g., dates of scientific publications, citations, links to published documents or PDF file copies of published scientific papers) on background (i.e., non-attributed) without first contacting OCAP.  In these cases, the employee must inform their servicing OCAP office afterwards that they have spoken to the media and provide the relevant details of the communication;

(2)  Employees should follow the specific guidance in Section 14, Talking to the News Media if contacted by news media for anything other than routine information as described above; and

(3)  Employees who wish to contact news media organizations to pitch stories or generate news media interest in a particular topic should contact their servicing OCAP office prior to doing so to coordinate these efforts and ensure that USGS and Departmental leadership is notified as appropriate per Section 14, Talking to the News Media.

G.  This policy does not authorize or require disclosure of information that is exempt from disclosure under FOIA (5 U.S.C. § 552) or otherwise restricted by statute, regulation, Executive Order, or other Executive Branch or Departmental directives.  Information released to the media must be publicly available and have received Bureau approval.  Examples of information not releasable under this policy include information that is, or is marked as:

(1)  Classified;

(2)  Procurement-sensitive;

(3)  Protected by the Privacy Act; and

(4)  Other information subject to privilege, such as deliberative, pre-decisional information or attorney-client communications.

H.  Coordinate with the Departmental Ethics Office and send materials for review, as necessary and appropriate, to confirm compliance with the Hatch Act and applicable ethics authorities.  Materials that should be sent for review include, but are not limited to: quotes from or content featuring candidates for partisan political office or other partisan political activity; any materials referencing or highlighting any fundraising solicitations or activities; quotes about or content highlighting non-Federal entities, services or products; or materials that raise endorsement concerns or misuse of position concerns, including quotes from external or non-Federal parties.  Requests for ethics review and any ethics questions about communications can be directed to

8.    Neutrality and Impartiality.

The USGS’s reputation for science excellence is based on its political and policy neutrality and the unbiased and impartial nature of its information.  All USGS products, materials, and communications with the media must remain neutral and not advocate, persuade, advise, recommend, sanction, or prescribe actions.  They must be free from political bias and partisanship and the appearance of such.  Similarly, the selection of which USGS products and materials are to be communicated to the media must remain free from political bias and partisanship and the appearance of such.  Finally, as required by the applicable ethics regulations, all USGS employees must take appropriate steps to avoid an appearance of loss of impartiality in the performance of official duties. 

9.    Delegation of Authority and Approvals.

A.  The Associate Director for the Office of Communications and Publishing (AD OCAP). The AD OCAP has primary responsibility for all USGS news media relations, including the review and approval of news releases, letters to the editor, and other written materials released to the general public through the news media.  The AD OCAP may delegate responsibility for approval of these communications material to the Deputy AD, Chief of External Affairs, Public Affairs Officer (PAO), or a Regional Communications Chief.

B.  Regional Communications Offices.  Each USGS Region has a designated Regional Communications Chief who is responsible for developing communications products and strategies that support Departmental and USGS priorities in the regions they serve.  This includes reviewing news releases and developing media relations within their Region.  Regional Communications Chiefs have the authority and responsibility to approve local and regional news releases and emergency communications that safeguard life and property in the case of unplanned events pertinent to the USGS mission, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, lahars, landslides, floods, harmful algal blooms, and severe weather.  This authority only extends to situations where speed of communication is critical for public safety.

C.  Office of Science Quality and Integrity (OSQI) and Science Center Approving Officials. Delegated approving officials in OSQI and in Science Centers are responsible for granting approval of scientific opinion pieces published in science journals, in accordance with FSP approval requirements (see SM 205.18).  If the issue involved is significant (see Section 6, Definitions), an OSQI Bureau Approving Official (BAO) will provide the opportunity for review of the article by the PAO.  The PAO and BAO will work together to ensure respective concerns are addressed in a mutually agreeable time prior to final BAO approval (see Section 16, Dispute Resolution, for resolving disputes between science and communication staff).

D.  USGS Employees.  All USGS employees are responsible for following the review and approval procedures in accordance with this SM chapter and OCAP Standard Operating Procedures.

10.    Employee Responsibilities.

In addition to following all requirements and guidance in this and other related SM chapters, employees are responsible for:

A.  Adhering to FSP, particularly regarding scientific opinion pieces published in science journals, in accordance with approval requirements described in SM 205.18;

B.  Keeping their supervisors and their servicing OCAP office informed of all significant actions that have the potential to generate public interest or media attention;

C.  Disseminating accurate and sufficient information about their work and confining statements made in their official capacity to factual material related to their area of responsibility;

D.  Understanding the difference and maintaining a clear distinction between public communications made in their official capacity and public communications made in their personal capacity;

E.  Referring through appropriate Bureau channels any news releases, letters to the editor, opinion pieces, and requests to speak to media in their official capacity in accordance with Sections 11 (Opinion Pieces and Letters to the Editor Written in an Official Capacity), 13 (Approval of News Releases), and 14 (Talking to the News Media); and

F.  Individuals authorized to speak in an official capacity are expected to work in close coordination with OCAP to:

(1)  Be honest and accurate in their communications;

(2)  Respond promptly to news media requests and respect news media deadlines, to the extent practicable;

(3)  Act promptly to correct erroneous information, both internally and externally;

(4)  Honor embargoed dates for media materials;

(5)  Appropriately protect information that is exempt from disclosure or where disclosure is restricted by statute, regulation, Executive Order, or other Executive Branch policies and directives; 

(6)  Promote activities that support the USGS mission; and

(7)  Maintain political neutrality.

11.    Opinion Pieces and Letters to the Editor Written in an Official Capacity.

A.  All opinion pieces, editorials, or letters to the editor published in news media outlets must be approved by the AD OCAP prior to submission. The special nature of opinion/editorial pieces intended for a news media outlet require approval by the Director and may require further approval at the Departmental level.  Opinion pieces or letters to the editors are not to be used to introduce any new scientific findings.

B.  Letters, editorials, or opinion pieces in scientific journals that pertain to scientific analysis of or commentary on other scientific works must be approved by an OSQI BAO as outlined in SM 205.18.  However, if the issue involved is significant (see Section 6, Definitions), the BAO will provide the opportunity for review of the article by the PAO.  The PAO and BAO will work together to address respective concerns in a timely manner prior to final BAO approval (see Section 16, Dispute Resolution, for resolving disputes between science and communication staff).

12.    Strategic Communications Plans and Associated Materials.

A.  In general, to ensure USGS communications are effective, employees seeking to disseminate communications on significant matters must develop, obtain approval for, and implement a strategic communications plan.

B.  The PAO or responsible Regional Communications Chief decides which communications require a strategic communications plan.

C.  In emergency situations involving threats to life or property, official communications directly related to that emergency may be developed and disseminated as needed without following standard review and approval procedures.  However, such communications must be sent to OCAP as soon as practicable so they can be shared with the Director, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, and the Departmental Office of Communications (OCO).  If an Incident Command System (ICS) has been established, the Incident Commander or their designee may need to review and approve official emergency communications.

D.  Communications and outreach professionals in OCAP should work with the appropriate scientist(s), Center outreach staff, and program or regional staff to prepare strategic communications plans.  The plans must start with a clearly identifiable communication goal or goals, and include specific strategies, tactics, and products designed to reach clearly defined audiences in support of those goals.

E.  Science and Center outreach staff may initiate and take the lead in developing communication plans and associated materials, but final review and approval of these materials must be granted by the AD OCAP.

F.  USGS media communications must use language that non-science audiences can understand and provide context of the science and the broader relevance to the American people.  To ensure scientific accuracy, appropriate science staff must review and approve communications products and messages and ensure that they meet requirements in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.  If the science and communication staff cannot agree on the content, the dispute is resolved as described in Section 16, Dispute Resolution.

13.    Approval of News Releases.

All news releases require OCAP approval, the process for which is defined below according to the scope of the release:

A.  National News Releases.  National news is defined by topics with broad public interest in the United States (U.S.) or that may receive coverage in major national news outlets.  A national news release may quote several sources including lead scientist(s), the Director, Assistant Secretary, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Secretary, or other Departmental official.  National news releases may be co-issued with other Federal agencies, state governments, or partners.

(1)  Designation of a news releases as “National” is made through coordination between the PAO and the respective Regional Communications Chief.

(2)  The PAO will determine the level of approval required.

(3)  The PAO will work with OCO to coordinate finalization of national news releases.

(4)  The PAO will seek approval for quotes in the news release from the individual being quoted.

(5)  The PAO will ensure that joint news releases are appropriately coordinated with the partner organization(s).

B.  Regional news is defined by topics of interest in one or more U.S. States, or where widespread regional news coverage is anticipated.  A regional news release may cite the lead scientist(s), Regional Director, partners, USGS Center Director(s), or others knowledgeable about the topic.

(1)  Regional Communications Chiefs are responsible for the quality and accuracy of regional news releases and for seeking approval for quotes from the individual being quoted.

(2)  Regional Chiefs must coordinate the creation, approval, and distribution of the release with the PAO.

(3)  An advance copy of all approved regional news releases must be provided to the Director, OCO and the office of the Assistant Secretary for awareness at least 24 hours prior to distribution.

C.  Local News Releases.  Local news is defined by topics of public interest to the immediate local community, not beyond.  Local news releases include information dealing with issues specific to a Center and with no national or regional implications.  A local news release may quote the lead scientist(s), USGS Center Director, or others knowledgeable about the topic.

(1)  Regional Communications Chiefs are responsible for the creation, approval, and distribution of local news releases.

(2)  An advance copy of the release must be provided to the PAO at least 48 hours prior to distribution.

(3)  Advance copies of approved local news releases do not need to be provided to the Director, OCO or the office of the Assistant Secretary.

D.  Emergency News Releases.  Rapid distribution of breaking news and information during crises, such as natural disasters, is often essential to safeguard life or property or support public confidence.  Under such circumstances, Centers or Regions may work with OCAP Regional Communications Chiefs to issue a statement, media advisory, or news release without first seeking approval from the Office of the Director, OCO, or others.  However, such communications with abbreviated review and approval chains may not include quotes from senior Bureau or Departmental officials.  The Regional Communications Chief must alert the PAO and AD OCAP.  The PAO will alert OCO at the earliest possible time that communications are forthcoming and provide them with copies of any materials concurrent with their release to the news media.

E.  Budget Communications.  The dissemination of news releases or other communications materials relating to the USGS budget must be approved by the AD Budget, Planning, and Integration and the Deputy Director for Administration and Policy.

14.    Talking to the News Media.

USGS employees may speak freely to the media and the public about scientific and technical matters based on their own work, including scientific and technical ideas, methods, findings, and conclusions.  Media interactions are directed by the following:

A.  Employees should not be prohibited from speaking to the news media unless it would result in disclosure of information that is exempt from disclosure (see Section 7G, Policy).

B.  Employees also have the right not to talk to the media and should not be forced to conduct interviews.

C.  Consistent with Section 7F, Policy, in order to maximize the benefit of communications for the Bureau and ensure coordination and consistency of messages, before speaking to the news media in an official capacity, employees should first coordinate with OCAP.  This provision should not be construed as a need for scientists to obtain permission from OCAP or others, or for others to influence what scientists say; only to ensure media inquiries are coordinated across mission areas and regions, other Bureaus and the Department.  This provision applies to all news media requests, including those that concern employees’ scientific, technical, and scholarly articles produced as a result of official work for the Bureau.  However, there are certain limited situations where such coordination is not practicable.  In such cases, employees must notify OCAP as soon as possible after the media interaction.  These limited situations include:

(1)  The employee is approved by their supervisor to give a live presentation at which members of the media are present and ask questions during a question and answer session or immediately after the presentation.  If the employee knows that media are likely to attend the presentation, they should notify OCAP beforehand.

(2)  The employee is in the field conducting data collection or similar work and is approached by a local reporter for information on their activities.  If the situation is not controversial and notifying OCAP in advance risks losing a media opportunity, the employee may speak to the reporter.

(3)  The employee receives a request from the news media for routine information in their area of expertise (such as publication dates, citations, etc., or providing copies of published science information products) that can be provided on background (i.e., non-attributed).  In this situation, the employee does not need to coordinate with OCAP.  However, the employee must be clear with the reporter that they are speaking on background only and then notify their servicing OCAP office of the interaction at the earliest possible time.

(4)  For urgent public safety communications where coordination is not feasible due to ongoing public safety risks, see SM 502.4.

D.  In any initial interaction employees have with the media, they should obtain the reporter’s name, the name of their outlet, and contact information to allow for potential follow-up by OCAP.

E.  Employees may not speak to the media on matters involving USGS budget, personnel issues, or Bureau or Departmental policy or positions in any capacity without specific authorization from OCAP.

F.  OCAP staff are available to conduct “just in time” media training prior to any interview, discussing likely questions the reporter may ask and helping scientists or staff prepare for the interview.  OCAP staff are also available to conduct formal group media training sessions to provide USGS employees with a foundation for how to prepare for and participate in media interviews.

G.  An OCAP Public Affairs Specialist may join employees who are speaking in an official capacity on behalf of the USGS during an interview.  This practice is strongly suggested for Executive Leadership Team members and recommended for all employees.  OCAP engagement will always be with the concurrence of the USGS employee concerned.  Public Affairs Specialists present on media calls are not permitted to prevent the employee from talking freely about their scientific or scholarly work.  The Public Affairs Specialist’s presence is designed to help employees and the Bureau in several ways, including:

(1)  Facilitating the interview, including organizing the time and format, setting ground rules and determining the scope of the interview.

(2)  Helping the reporter identify others who can provide pertinent information based on the topic and the questions.

(3)  Being the central point of contact to help the reporter with follow-up questions.

(4)  Assisting the USGS subject matter expert should the reporter ask questions outside the employee’s area of expertise, or not follow the ground rules.

(5)  Minimizing the chances that the employee will be misquoted or quoted out of context, and providing corroboration, if needed, that an employee has been misquoted.

(6)  As appropriate, demanding a retraction or correction of published material if the employee is misquoted or quoted out of context.

(7)  Providing background information that gives a broad USGS perspective or that may be outside of the employee’s expertise or knowledge.

If a USGS employee elects not to be accompanied on an interview by an OCAP Public Affairs Specialist, they should consider recording the interview.  This ensures an account of the interaction with which to resolve any potential disagreement with the reporter on the content of quotes.  The employee should inform the reporter that they will be recording the conversation first and receive agreement, then transcribe the recordings and retain them for center personnel in accordance with records management policy (see SM 431.6, Records Disposition).

H.  Employees should immediately refer all news media requests to their servicing Public Affairs Specialist with the following information:

(1)  News media outlet name and location;

(2)  Reporter’s name and contact information;

(3)  Brief description of the topic; and

(4)  Background on the sensitivity of the topic, and whether it is high-profile or controversial.

I.  Employees speaking on behalf of the USGS are responsible for the content of their statements and adherence to FSP.

J.  All designated spokespeople, as well as OCAP staff, should ensure to the greatest extent possible that talking points, statements, and other communications materials they plan to use in an interview or otherwise release to the public are reviewed for accuracy by the appropriate USGS scientist(s) or other technical expert(s) before dissemination.

15.    Public Communications in a Personal Capacity.

USGS employees are free to speak to the media in a personal capacity as members of the public, in accordance with their constitutional and legal rights and freedoms.  As USGS employees, however, certain limitations apply:

A.  Public communications made by employees in their personal capacity must conform to ethics laws and regulations, including the Standards of Conduct set forth in 5 CFR Part 2635 and the Hatch Act.

B.  Personal capacity public communications must take place on an employee’s own time, must not use Federal Government property (including telecommunications equipment and services), must not disclose nonpublic information, and must not use subordinate’s time to assist in personal capacity activities or communications.

C.  Such communications may be related to an employee’s scientific experience, knowledge, or area of expertise.  Generally, employees communicating in their personal capacity may not use or permit the use of their official titles or positions and must clearly indicate their views do not represent the views of the Bureau or the Department and request that their official title or affiliation to the USGS not be used.  If their official title or affiliation is used, it may only be included as part of a biographical summary that refers to several of their credentials and be given no more prominence than other significant biographical details.  Employees should therefore consider whether communication in a personal capacity is possible if such communication relates to their scientific work carried out as part of their USGS employment.

D.  The USGS and its scientists are required to be impartial and take appropriate steps to avoid the appearance of loss of impartiality in the performance of their official duties.  When speaking in a personal capacity, employees should consider the impact their statements may have on the impartiality of their work and the work of their colleagues and the Bureau.  SM 431.12, Requests for Court Testimony or Records and Certification of Records, applies when USGS personnel receive requests for records or testimony.

E.  The Hatch Act limits certain political activities of Federal employees and applies to certain personal capacity activities, including personal communications.  ​The law’s purposes are to ensure that Federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect Federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that Federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.​​​​ ​​The Hatch Act limitations apply differently to those employees categorized as “less restricted” or “further restricted” and OCAP encourages USGS employees to seek further guidance before engaging in partisan political activities.

F.  USGS employees are encouraged to seek ethics guidance with respect to public communications in their personal capacity and are strongly encouraged to consult with ethics officials if the employee wishes to accept compensation in exchange for participating in public communications.

16.    Dispute Resolution.

A.  OCAP staff are experienced in turning complex scientific principles, methods, results, and conclusions into language that a lay audience can understand, but in the process, disagreements with scientists may arise.  Actions by OCAP staff must not change the meaning of scientific content or lead to a loss of scientific integrity.  USGS scientists and Public Affairs Specialists should always strive to resolve such disagreements at the staff level.  If they cannot reach agreement, they should elevate the issue through the Bureau’s chain of command as follows:

(1)  First, to the PAO (or Regional Communications Chief) and the scientist’s supervisor or program manager respectively.

(2)  If those officials are unable to resolve the dispute, they should elevate the disagreement to the next level supervisor.  The final level of adjudication on scientific matters is the USGS Chief Scientist.

B.  If a dispute cannot be resolved or a scientist believes there is a scientific integrity issue related to public communication materials, they should refer the matter to OSQI.

17.    Coordinating Communications with the Department.

A.  Some strategic communications plans and products (and the timing and method of their dissemination) require clearance from the Department in addition to OCAP and the Office of the Director.  These include, but are not limited to:

(1)  Releases or other communications quoting the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Assistant Secretaries, or other senior leaders in the Department.

(2)  Communications concerning science, announcements, and decisions on high-profile or controversial topics or those with broad policy implications likely to generate national news media or broad congressional interest.

(3)  Administration priorities or announcements that may offer significant positive outreach opportunities at the Department level.

B.  OCAP works with OCO to determine which strategic communications packages require Departmental review and approval and coordinates those requirements with the appropriate staff.

C.  Written or graphical materials or speeches prepared in response to requests for official communications from external organizations, private companies, or individuals are subject to additional review to ensure their contents do not violate laws or Federal ethics regulations and standards. OCAP coordinates those requirements with the USGS Ethics Team, Departmental Ethics Office, and (or) Departmental Office of the Solicitor staff.

D.  If a scientist believes there is a scientific integrity issue stemming from Department-mandated changes to public communication materials, the scientist should refer the matter to OSQI.

18.    Paid Advertising.

It is the general policy of the Department and the USGS not to use paid advertising except where special legal requirements and authority exist.  In the event the USGS believes paid advertising is necessary because of the significant benefits it affords in enhancing public participation or safety, the following apply:

A.  Paid advertising requires prior, written OCAP approval, in consultation with the USGS Ethics Team, Departmental Ethics Office, and Office of the Solicitor staff;

B.  No paid advertising will be approved or authorized without strong justification that it supports a critical program or activity;

C.  The AD OCAP determines when review of such advertising is also required by the Department; and

D.  The prohibition of paid advertising does not apply to sponsorship of conferences in which an agency advertisement may be featured in conference materials or to the use of paid advertisements for hiring and recruitment purposes.