Social media blackout hits Department of Energy renewables team

An email obtained by ThinkProgress tells employees not to discuss work on their social media.

The Dept. of Energy building in Washington, DC. CREDIT: Beau Finley/Flickr
The Dept. of Energy building in Washington, DC. CREDIT: Beau Finley/Flickr

Employees working in a Department of Energy solar program were ordered this week not to share anything about their work on private or professional social media accounts, ThinkProgress has learned.

The directive was given at a staff meeting, according to the email sent Thursday morning, and came from Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Steven Chalk. Another employee confirmed the email’s authenticity.

“I want to share that we are PROHIBITED from any social media post (from personal or business handles) regarding your work, attendance at any meeting, etc until further notice, per Steve Chalk, acting EE-1,” the email reads. The email was sent from a member of the solar program, known as SunShot, to roughly 50 staff members of the same group.

Chalk has been prohibited from speaking with reporters until the department is fully staffed with political appointees, according to the person who answered the phone at his office Thursday.

A spokesperson for the Department of Energy said she had no knowledge of the directive and denied that it was departmental policy. “It was not a departmental directive. I don’t know what EERE might be doing on their own,” the spokesperson said. “We are business as normal throughout the department.”

Multiple sources at EERE told ThinkProgress that staff members are worried about what they are allowed to do under the new administration and about whether their jobs are secure.

The entire EERE program has been targeted to be cut under the new administration, according to reporting from The Hill last week. EERE includes SunShot, which provides solar-related grants, as well as energy efficiency, electric vehicle, and wind energy programs. According to the office’s website, $12 billion in taxpayer investment has yielded $230 billion in economic activity, and the program has a 20 percent return on its investment.

The spokesperson said that the public affairs team has met with the Trump transition team and has not been told of any cuts. Other team members confirm employees have read news reports of those alleged cuts.

The SunShot employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said the SunShot team has not had any meetings with the transition team. No public communication from the team has been approved since President Trump took office, the employee said. The Sunshot website has not posted any new content since before the inauguration.