Local officials question NOAA media policies

SEATTLE: Local public affairs professionals have questioned temporary restrictions placed on a long-time National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) representative to discuss Northwest salmon policies.

SEATTLE: Local public affairs professionals have questioned temporary restrictions placed on a long-time National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) representative to discuss Northwest salmon policies.

In an episode that began with a court ruling in early April restricting salmon fishing in Oregon's Klamath Basin - a topic of intense interest for both environmentalists and the fishing industry - the chief representative in Seattle for NOAA, Brian Gorman, was told by his superiors to begin referring all "salmon policy" questions by the media to the regional director of NOAA in Portland, OR.

Michael Marchand, chairman of the public affairs committee of the Seattle Federal Executive Board, which consists of the highest-ranking officials of all the area's federal agencies, said he and his colleagues were troubled by NOAA's decision and may seek to develop some "best practices" for public affairs officials.

Articles in The Washington Post and The Seattle Times compared the NOAA decision to have NOAA regional director Bob Lohn handle all salmon policy questions instead of Gorman to instances in government agencies, such as NASA, where political appointees apparently cracked down on the ability of public affairs officials to discuss controversial topics like global warming.

But Jordan St. John, NOAA director of public affairs, said that's simply not true and that the decision was in keeping with long-time NOAA practices. Of the 35 public affairs officers representing the approximately 12,500 NOAA employees across the country, just two are political appointees, St. John said.

"To say that the administration is trying to control what's being said by anyone at the agency is absurd," he said. "It's physically impossible, even if anybody wanted to, and they don't."

When first reached for comment, NOAA's Gorman said the restrictions on his ability to comment on salmon policy remained in place indefinitely, but after PRWeek called St. John for comment, Gorman later told the magazine that St. John had informed him that the restrictions had been lifted.

St. John confirmed the change, saying "that was a temporary situation that has now been resolved."

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