Critics say new State Department guidelines meant to ‘chill’ employee speech

Posted by on Aug 24, 2015 at 7:39 am
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves to supporters after speaking at the New School in the Manhattan borough of New York City, July 13, 2015. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton put the fight for higher wages for everyday Americans at the heart of her economic agenda on Monday, in the first major policy speech of her White House bid. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Tougher State Department rules governing federal workers’ speech — covering everything from their congressional testimony to tweets — have critics warning of a chilling effect that could be a way to put officials on notice as Congress probes the Benghazi attack and Hillary Clinton email scandal.

“Boy, does this smell like bad fish,” said Peter Van Buren, an ex-foreign service officer who was squeezed out of his job in 2012 after he published a book and a personal blog critical of the State Department’s Iraq reconstruction efforts.

“This does seem kind of coincidental that these new rules, after three years, have been issued in the same time frame as the Hillary Clinton [email] situation … and looking forward to [Benghazi] hearings in October,” he told FoxNews.com. “It looks like they are trying to chill the speech of their employees.”

The 19-page revised rules, first reported by the blog Diplopundit, were issued on July 27 and include three major changes or clarifications, critics say, that could clamp down on government workers’ speech. They include specific wording about congressional testimony, wait times for review of blog posts and social media like tweets, and additional restrictions on what material can be published in a personal capacity by either current or former employees.

“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.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also expressed concern, saying in a statement: “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.”

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