WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- The new U.S. administration has ordered a freeze on grants and contracts by the country's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and banned its employees from publicly speaking of this change, U.S. media reported Tuesday.
"New EPA administration has asked that all contract and grant awards be temporarily suspended, effective immediately," said an email obtained by the Washington Post. "Until we receive further clarification, which we hope to have soon, please construe this to include task orders and work assignments."
The newspaper said this email went out to employees in the EPA's Office of Acquisition Management within hours of President Donald Trump's swearing-in on Friday.
The Huffington Post reported that an EPA staffer "fearing retaliation" provided the information to the congressional office anonymously.
Also, EPA employees reportedly have been banned from "providing updates to reporters or on social media."
"No social media will be going out," read an internal memo obtained by the Huffington Post. "A Digital Strategist will be coming on board to oversee social media. Existing, individually controlled, social media accounts may become more centrally controlled."
Meanwhile, the EPA is not allowed to issue press releases, post blog messages or update new content on websites, the internal memo said. Media requests will also be carefully screened.
Similarly, the U.S. Agricultural Research Service, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and several other federal agencies reportedly have also been barred from any public communication about their work.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday he had no information on the gag order.
"We're looking into it," Spicer said. "I don't think it's any surprise that when there's an administration turnover, that we're going to review the policies."
The nonprofit environmental group Union of Concerned Scientists slammed the orders as a move to muzzle scientists and block research.
"It's the first full week of President Trump's administration and attacks on science are already underway," the group said in a statement. "This undermines vital public health and environmental protections, erodes public trust and violates the basic principles of science."