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Guidance: Representing EPA Online Using Social Media

Page history last edited by jeffrey levy 10 years, 11 months ago

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Other EPA social media guidance



SUBJECT:    Interim Guidance for EPA Employees who are Representing EPA Online Using Social Media


DATE:      January 26, 2010


FROM:     Linda A. Travers  /s/

               Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator

               Office of Environmental Information


               Seth Oster  /s/

               Associate Administrator

               Office of Public Affairs



               Assistant Administrators

               General Counsel

               Inspector General

               Chief Financial Officer

               Associate Administrators

               Regional Administrators

               Staff Office Directors

               Deputy Assistant Administrators

               Deputy Regional Administrators


Social media platforms like Facebook and Wikipedia offer us the chance to engage with the public in new ways.  The general public has a strong interest in EPA, and they are using social media tools to share information and opinions about the Agency’s activities.  It benefits environmental protection to both create new social media tools and, where appropriate, participate in existing tools by adding the Agency’s official perspective or correcting errors.


We encourage you to take full advantage of these opportunities, but we also want to give you clear guidance, especially on how employees represent EPA online in their official capacities.  We will be sending out a mass mailer shortly.  In the meantime, we have attached the interim guidance “Representing EPA Online Using Social Media” and flow chart, “Should I Respond Online on EPA’s Behalf?” for you to share with your employees.


What does the term “Social Media” Mean?

“Social media” is a broad term for the wide spectrum of Web 2.0 and user-driven content technologies (e.g., blogs, wikis, podcasts, online videos).  Like many government agencies, EPA is exploring how best to use social media to accomplish our mission, engage the public in discussions, include people in the governing process, and collaborate internally and externally.


EPA and Social Media

When employees participate on EPA’s behalf in social media as part of their official duties, they are representing the Agency.  They should exercise the same decorum and professionalism that they would if they were speaking on EPA’s behalf at a conference or public meeting.  Even online, when we are functioning in an official capacity, we are the Agency’s representatives and the same managerial considerations and ethical principles apply.  Employees must obtain their supervisor's approval before representing EPA online, and must not opine on behalf of the Agency in areas that are outside their assigned duties.  Any posting performed by Agency employees acting in their official capacity should be properly cited and fully supported.


The interim guidance does not apply to employees’ online activities while not on official duty; however, employees are always bound by the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, the conflict of interest statutes, and the Hatch Act.  There are ethical obligations to follow even when employees are engaged in their personal capacities.  For example, even in their personal capacities, employees should not misuse their EPA positions or titles nor engage in partisan political fundraising.  The Memorandum of Understanding between the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) and EPA (PDF) references the interim guidance.  While reviewing the MOU, please keep in mind the applicable EPA policies and ethics regulations that unconditionally prohibit employees from using social media in official duty status unless such use is a part of their assigned duties.  In the event that employees are "uncertain" about social media use during official duty time, then they should not use it without express supervisory approval.


The Social Media Policy, which is still in development, will address how EPA programs can use social media to create an online presence (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.).  If you have any questions about this guidance, or would like to learn more about EPA’s current social media capabilities, please refer to this blog or contact the EPA Web Council co-chairs, Jonda Byrd of the Office of Environmental Information (byrd.jonda@epa.gov) or Jeffrey Levy of the Office of Public Affairs (levy.jeffrey@epa.gov).





Scope.  This guidance applies to EPA employees representing EPA online in their official capacities and to contractors working on behalf of EPA.  This guidance does not supersede or replace existing legal responsibilities and policies in effect.  This guidance only applies to official online activities by employees.  However, please note that the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, 5 C.F.R. Part 2635 governs personal and official use of EPA computers and internet access.  For questions about how program and Regional offices can use social media, please refer to the Social Media @ EPA blog or contact the EPA Web Council co-chairs, Jonda Byrd of the Office of Environmental Information (byrd.jonda@epa.gov) or Jeffrey Levy of the Office of Public Affairs (levy.jeffrey@epa.gov).


Represent your office.  The line between public and private, personal and professional can sometimes get blurred in online social networks.  It is important that you remember that you are participating in your official capacity and not in your personal capacity.  Make sure that your online activities and online content associated with you while you are officially representing EPA are consistent with your job responsibilities at EPA.  If you see online errors about EPA that are not in your area of expertise or you are not authorized to represent EPA in regard to the subject matter, then pass them on to someone who is an expert in the area or who is authorized to represent EPA in regard to that issue.  If you do not know whom to contact, please consult with your supervisor or the Office of Public Affairs.


Respect your time and effort.  Consider the time and effort needed to respond and the value of your participation.  Discuss with your supervisor whether a particular interaction is worth your time and effort.


Be transparent and honest.  Do not comment or edit anonymously.  Because you are working in your official EPA capacity, you can make reference to your EPA position and title. If you are a contractor, name your company and be clear that you are a contractor working on behalf of EPA and not an EPA employee.


State facts, not opinions.  Generally, when representing EPA online, do not engage in discussions of opinion about EPA's programs, because promoting ourselves instead of focusing on facts could be construed as propaganda or lobbying.  In addition, cite your sources when stating facts.  In some cases, you may be authorized to express official opinions through submitting op-ed or similar articles to online publications.  If you wish to do so, you must obtain permission from the Communications Directors and Public Affairs Directors and comply with applicable publication policies and use of disclaimers.


Protect nonpublic information.  Social media blur many of the traditional boundaries between internal and external communications.  Be thoughtful about what you publish or post online.  Do not disclose or use nonpublic information.  Pay attention to the rules about misuse of position.  If you would not say something offline or include it in a written letter, do not post it online.  For more information about nonpublic information refer to Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, specifically 5 C.F.R. 2635.703.


Ethics apply, even online.  As an EPA employee, you are bound by the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch.  Do not use your public office or EPA position, title or authority for private gain.  Do not misuse government property or government time.  Do not divulge nonpublic information, which includes any information that is exempt from disclosure that is designated as confidential, or has not actually been disseminated to the public and is not authorized to be made available to the public upon request.  Abide by the Hatch Act and do not lobby.  Contractors must follow contracting rules.  Simply put, behave professionally, responsibly, impartially and above all ethically, and with your supervisor’s approval.  More information about EPA Ethics Program.


Maintain records when applicable.  Agency records created or received using social media tools must be printed to paper and managed according to the applicable records schedule in a recordkeeping systemMore information about the EPA Records Management Program.


Steps for representing EPA online in an official capacity

[For example, by writing posts for or commenting on non-EPA blogs, chatting in an online forum, or editing a non-EPA wiki (such as Wikipedia)]

  1. Remember that your time is valuable.  Discuss the following with your supervisor and obtain approval, whether creating a new item or responding to an existing item.  Contractors should discuss and obtain approval from their EPA contract manager.
    1. Time to research and write a posting, response, or edit
    2. Likely viewership and value of participating
    3. Importance of the issue
  2. If responding, also use the attached flow chart, “Should I Respond Online on EPA’s Behalf?”

  3. Identify supporting sources.  If a supporting source is online, then provide information so that others can access it.  Online support may include EPA Web pages and other materials including video and audio; offline bibliographical references are second-best.  Do not edit or write without supporting citations, and include a disclaimer to clarify that references made to non-EPA information do not constitute an endorsement.
  4. Identify your EPA affiliation.  Because you are participating in your official capacity, you may create a profile on social media sites that identifies you as an employee of the "U.S. Environmental Protection Agency" and use your work email address.  If you are an EPA contractor, you should make that fact clear and identify your company.  Do not submit items to or make edits about EPA information anonymously.  Restrict your participation, comments or edits to facts.  Do not address opinions and remember that your actions reflect on the Agency.
  5. To help all of EPA learn good models for online engagement, please inform your Web Content Coordinator, who will track these types of activities for your program office or Region.
    1. If your social media use is a one-time event, send the URL and a brief summary of the situation.
    2. If your participation is ongoing, let the Web Content Coordinator know the general nature of what you are doing. (For example, you are generally monitoring relevant blogs and commenting where appropriate.)


Printable PDF of the flowchart

Flow chart showing how to decide whether to respond online

Comments (2)

Melinda Davey said

at 9:38 am on Jul 14, 2010

Hello. Thank you for sharing your protocol concerning responding to blog posts. I noticed that it encourages EPA members to use supporting sources, such as documents or video. Do you have any procedures in place to make sure that those sources are accessible to readers with disabilities?

jeffrey levy said

at 12:20 pm on Apr 26, 2011

Melinda: yes, anything posted on EPA's website must be accessible.

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