U.S. Geological Survey Manual
500.5 - News Release and Media Relations Policy
OPR: Office of Communications and Publishing
Instruction: This updates and replaces Survey Manual (SM) chapter 500.5 – News Release and Media Relations Policy, dated May 30, 2002.
1. News Release and Media Relations Policy. As an integral part of its mission, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has a continuing responsibility to keep the public informed of its various programs, activities, and research. This chapter establishes the policy and procedures for disseminating and providing information to the public by various communications methods. This policy is in accordance with the Department of the Interior, Departmental Manual, Part 470: Public Communications, Chapter 1: General Policy and Procedures.
2. Official Public Communications. Public communications are made by USGS employees in their official capacity concerning Departmental or bureau policy, actions, decisions and/or opinions. Public communication as it applies to this Survey Manual chapter is the release of information to the public through press releases, media advisories, media events, news features, news media interviews, speeches, statements about official business for public release, letters to the editor, opinion pieces, social media, internet and intranet postings, technical announcements, or other information and material given to news media representatives and by other means. The news media communications described in this chapter are to be distinguished from scientific articles published in science outlets such as journals, which may include book reviews, comments, replies, opinion pieces, or letters that specifically respond to previously published works by USGS authors and others or address the science surrounding an issue, even if viewpoints are strongly stated. These scientific articles are not considered news media communications as described in this chapter and must be reviewed and approved in accordance with USGS Fundamental Science Practices (FSP) requirements.
3. Non-Advocacy. The USGS reputation for science excellence is based on its 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. For additional information regarding non-advocacy, contact a Bureau Approving Official (BAO) in the USGS Office of Science Quality and Integrity. Media issues regarding budget and Congressional issues such as those impacting appropriations, program funding, and pending legislation must be referred to the Associate Director of the USGS Office of Communications and Publishing who will coordinate with the USGS Office of Budget, Planning, and Integration, as appropriate.
4. Other Public Communications Regarding Programs, Operations, and Activities: Public communications made by employees in their individual capacity regarding the programs, operations, and activities of the USGS or the Department of the Interior must be clearly communicated as individual opinions so they cannot be perceived as official position statements of the USGS. Such communications by employees in their individual capacity may be related to the employee’s official duties or based primarily on knowledge acquired through official duties, but cannot identify the individual as being an employee of the USGS.
5. Delegation of Authority and Approvals.
A. Headquarters, Director's Office, Office of Communications and Publishing. The Associate Director for the Office of Communications and Publishing has primary responsibility for all USGS news media relations, including the review and approval of news releases, letters to the editor, and other materials and information released to the general public through the news media. This responsibility has been delegated to the Bureau Public Affairs Officer.
B. Regional Communications Offices. Each USGS Region has a designated Communications Chief who is responsible for approving news releases and developing media relations within their Region. The Associate Director, USGS Office of Communications and Publishing, has delegated this responsibility to the Regional Communications Chief.
C. Centers/Field Offices. All centers are responsible for following the review and approval procedures in accordance with the USGS News Release and Media Relations Policy.
D. Office of Science Quality and Integrity and Science Center Approving Officials: Delegated approving officials in the Office of Science Quality and Integrity and in Science Centers are responsible for granting approval of scientific articles (i.e. book reviews, comments, replies, opinion pieces, or letters) published in science outlets such as journals, in accordance with the USGS Fundamental Science Practices approval requirements (SM 205.18, section 4.F.). If the issue involved is of high interest or highly visible within and outside the scientific community, the BAO in the Office of Science Quality and Integrity will request a review of the article by the Bureau Public Affairs Officer. In these cases, an initial BAO review occurs before review by the Public Affairs Officer, but final approval by the BAO is granted only after all reviews are complete and any concerns by the Public Affairs Officer have been addressed.
6. Notification of Release and Required Copy: To ensure advance notification is provided to the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science and the DOI Office of Communications about upcoming bureau press releases, an advance copy of all national, regional and local news releases must be provided to the Associate Director of OCAP, or designee no less than 24 hours before planned distribution and as much in advance as possible. Refer to "Section 8 Review and Approval" for clarification. The only exception is when timeliness is critical for public health and/or safety. The rapid distribution of breaking news and information during crises, such as natural disasters or personnel tragedies, often requires swift publication and/or dissemination of information in support of public confidence. Under such circumstances, the originating center may issue a brief statement, media advisory or news release. In such cases, the originating center acts at its own discretion in approval and release, but must provide the USGS Public Affairs Officer and the appropriate Regional Communications Chief with copies of any such release of information concurrent with its release to the news media. When possible, consultation should be sought from a Regional Communications Chief or the USGS Public Affairs Officer who can assist with developing an appropriate message for the circumstance.
7. Opinion Pieces Written or Spoken in an Official Capacity and Letters to the Editor. The special nature of opinion pieces and letters to the editor intended for a non-scientific news media outlet require approval by the USGS Public Affairs Officer who will consult with Regional Communications Chiefs as appropriate. Any opinion piece or letter to the editor must be reviewed and approved before being submitted to a media outlet and may require further approval at the Department level. Opinion pieces or letters to the editors are not to be used to introduce any new scientific findings. When submitting an opinion piece and a letter to the editor of a scientific journal, refer to Section 5.D for guidance.
8. Review and Approval.
A. National News Releases: National news is defined by issues with broad public interest in multiple states. A national news release may quote several sources including lead authors of the study being announced, the USGS Director, the Assistant Secretary, or the Interior Secretary involving Secretarial policies or initiatives, legislation pending before Congress and when widespread media coverage is anticipated regarding major policy statements, controversial issues, breaking news, or new USGS scientific studies. National news releases may be co-issued with other federal agencies, state governments, or partner universities.
(1) The USGS Public Affairs Officer will determine if any higher-level approval must be obtained.
(2) Designation of national news releases is done in coordination with the Public Affairs Officer and the Regional Communications Chiefs.
(3) The Public Affairs Officer will forward all news releases that require Departmental approval to the USGS Director, Associate Directors, and as appropriate, to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science and the Department's Office of Communications.
B. Regional News Releases. Regional news is defined by issues of regional public interest in one or more states, or if widespread regional news coverage is anticipated. A regional news release may cite the Regional Director, partners, USGS center directors and/or the appropriate scientist(s) knowledgeable about the topic that is being released to the press.
(1) Regional Communications Chiefs are responsible for the approval of regional news releases.
(2) An advance copy of all approved regional news releases must be provided to the Public Affairs Officer at least 24 hours prior to release.
(3) The Public Affairs Officer will forward all news releases that require Departmental approval to the USGS Associate Directors, Director, and as appropriate, to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science and the Department's Office of Communications.
C. Local News Releases. Local news is defined by issues of public interest to the local community. 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 USGS center director and/or the appropriate scientist(s) knowledgeable about the topic.
(1) Regional Communications Chiefs are responsible for the approval of local news releases.
(2) An advance copy of all approved local news releases must be provided by the Regional Communications Chief to the Public Affairs Officer at least 24 hours in advance.
9. Employee Responsibilities. The USGS supports and encourages employees to speak on behalf of the USGS to news media representatives about their official work and freely and openly discuss scientific, scholarly, technical information, findings and conclusions based on their official, published work or area of expertise. In addition to following all prescribed guidance in this and other related USGS policy chapters, employees are responsible for:
A. Keeping supervisors and USGS public affairs personnel informed of all significant actions that have the potential to generate public interest or media attention.
B. Disseminating accurate and adequate information about their work and confining statements made in their official capacity to factual material related to their area of responsibility.
C. Referring through appropriate bureau channels any news releases or requests for media interviews concerning policy matters, or that cut across Departments or bureau lines for prior review and approval.
D. Understanding the difference and maintaining a clear distinction between official public communications made in their official capacity and other public communications regarding the programs, operations or activities of the Department made in their individual capacity.
E. Employees communicating in their individual capacity may not use or permit the use of their official titles or positions in such a way that a reasonable person would believe they were communicating on behalf of the USGS or the Department. Therefore, when employees engage in public communication in their individual capacity regarding a program, operation, or activity of the USGS, they must clearly indicate they are not representing the views of the bureau or the Department.
F. Clearly indicating to the media whether they are communicating in their official or individual capacity.
10. 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, the following apply:
A. Paid advertising requires prior written approval by the bureau public affairs office, in consultation with the Office of the Solicitor.
B. No paid advertising will be approved or authorized without strong justification that supports a critical program or activity.
C. USGS public affairs offices must determine when review is also required by the Department.
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.
/s/ Jose R. Aragon July 10, 2015
Jose R. Aragon Date
Associate Director for Administration
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