“Don’t start that talking
I could talk all night
My mind goes sleepwalking
While I’m putting the world to right”

– Elvis Costello & the Attractions

Here we go again. A public agency sends an e-mail to 900-plus employees telling them not to talk. Not to Congress. Not to reporters. Not even to the Department’s own inspector general.

The message gets leaked to a reporter (big surprise there), and suddenly there are national news stories (here’s one from the San Francisco Examiner) excoriating agency management for a “bunker mentality” that aims to “chill the cubicles” and suppress information.

Under fire is the EPA whose chief of staff sent a June 16 e-mail instructing agency staff that “”If you are contacted directly by the IG’s office or GAO requesting information of any kind . . . please do not respond to questions or make any statements.” Instead, the message urged that all inquiries be forwarded to a designated agency representative.

Clearly, there can be benefit in managing information flow (and, therefore, information receipt). There is also benefit in helping ensure that individuals who are not familiar with the facts of a situations decline to speculate publicly. But sending an e-mail directing professionals – especially professionals who work in public service positions charged with protecting the environment – not to respond to any inquiries is just plain stu . . .

Well, let’s just say it demonstrates questionable judgment.

Were we at the beginning of the Net age, such a bone-headed (and clumsy) effort to control information flow to the media almost could be understood (“hey, who knew that this new-fangled electronic mail messages could be forwarded to somebody outside of our building?!”). But in 2008?? Geez, sending a message like that today is practically begging to have its contents and your name splashed is headlines from California to the New York Island (and all points in between, including blogs like this one).

Talk about a blinding glimpse of the obvious . . .