U.S. Department of Agriculture

Washington, D.C.









Press Operations


DATE:  September 7, 2016



Office of Communications



Section                                                                                                Page

1            Purpose                                                                                               1

2            Special Instructions/Cancellations                                                      1

3            Policy                                                                                                  1

4            Responsibilities for Current Information Materials                            2

5            Responsibilities for News Media Service                                           3

6            Limitations                                                                                          4

7            Information Dissemination                                                                 5

8            Policy and Style Guides                                                                     5




1.          PURPOSE


This regulation prescribes the policies and procedures for production and dissemination of current information materials, principally news releases, backgrounders, media advisories, and similar information, and for working with news media representatives.






This regulation supersedes DR-1440-002, “Communications Coordination and Review Policy.”




3.          POLICY


The policy of USDA is to use news media and other communications channels to report, explain, and interpret to the public, including specific interest groups, the policies, regulations, programs, and activities of USDA. The Secretary has delegated authority to the Office of Communications (OC) to determine policy and provide leadership and centralized operational direction for all USDA and agency information activities so that they will promote understanding about USDA policies, programs, and activities.


The Office of the Press Secretary within the Office of Press Operations is the OC unit through which current information is released in printed and electronic forms.   Current information includes news releases, features, notices to correspondents, media advisories, testimony, speeches, fact sheets, digital and graphical content, and back- ground pieces on current topics issued to all branches of the news media and other selected communications entities.  The Communications Coordination unit in the Office of Press Operations coordinates with the Press Secretary on these activities as well as others.  These include recurring as well as one-time Departmental-level publications and special communications projects that disseminate information to general consumers as well as to targeted constituents.






a.         Agency Duties.  USDA agencies are responsible for developing information of national significance and making it available to OC's Office of Press Operations in acceptable formats.  Each agency is responsible for accuracy of statements contained in news materials about agency activities, conformance to news style, and for clearance within the agency and mission area, including approvals as required by individual agency regulations.  Each agency will indicate to the Communications Coordinator the name of the highest ranking agency official who cleared the news material(s).  During the clearance process, news materials are to be marked "DRAFT" or otherwise clearly indicated as a draft document, and agency and OC employees are not to discuss with or show the contents to people who are not working directly with USDA.


       Issuance of Regional Releases by Agency Field Offices. Agency field offices should make a preliminary determination on whether news materials they are developing may have national significance and, if so, send a draft to the agency’s national information director.  That official may consult with the Communications Coordinator, and if they agree, the draft will be forwarded to the Communications Coordinator as a national release.  Field offices are authorized to initiate and release information to news media within their geographic area only or to publications outside their geographic area which serve a specific trade group. Communications Coordinators serve as the authoritative reference for all clearance requirements for all press materials between OC and the agencies.


b.         Communications Coordinator Duties.  It is the responsibility of the OC Communications Coordinator(s) to clear all news materials with the appropriate Department leadership and any other officials deemed necessary such as officials in the Secretary’s Office and the OC Director. Final clearance of all news materials is given by the Press Secretary. When the news materials have cleared USDA, the Communications Coordinator can clear them with other Federal agencies' and departments’ communications offices, and with the press office in the White House, as necessary.  If the Communications Coordinator substantively edits materials, the agency must be notified so the copy may be re-checked for accuracy prior to official release.


c.         Issuance of National Releases.  Following clearances, the Communications Coordinator directs release of the information to Washington correspondents and national media directly, electronically, or through other acceptable means.  USDA agencies and their field offices are encouraged to redistribute national materials electronically or by other means to regional and local news media and other interested entities.


d.        Issuance of Ongoing News Summaries to Top USDA Officials.  The Office of Press Operations keeps the Secretary of Agriculture and top USDA decision makers informed about the broad range of issues affecting USDA, especially those likely to be considered when formulating policy or procedures, or those likely to come up in interactions with the public and other Federal decision makers through a daily edition of relevant media clips.






The customer service policy of USDA is to cooperate with all media representatives when at all possible.  This includes, but is not limited to, radio and television reporters, newspaper and magazine reporters, wire service reporters, online outlets, bloggers, newsletter editors, and the agricultural, consumer, and environmental media.  Media inquiries must be given top priority since media representatives are often working on short deadlines.  Failure to respond to media inquiries will be seen as poor customer service and may result in a negative image for all of USDA.


a.         Agency Responsibilities.  Each agency’s national information director or staff office director is responsible for notifying the appropriate Communications Coordinator when the agency has been contacted by a national news media representative, or the agency is planning a "media event."  Each agency’s national information director is responsible for seeing that the proper agency official respond to media inquiries as quickly as possible.


       Handling "Crisis" Situations.  Each agency’s national information director is responsible for providing to the appropriate Communications Coordinator the name and home phone number of an agency "spokesperson" who may be contacted in the event of an agency "crisis."  This spokesperson should be a knowledgeable program person who will be available to give interviews and talk to reporters during the "crisis." The agency’s national information director will work closely with the appropriate Communications Coordinator and the Press Secretary to manage ongoing crises.


b.    Communications Coordinator Responsibilities.  The Communications Coordinator is responsible for coordinating all public communications within the respective USDA program mission area and within OC, including USDA-level media events, dissemination of current information, and responses to queries from national news media. Coordinators will:


(1)               Provide communications training for USDA officials, and help prepare USDA spokespersons to effectively communicate USDA messages to media and constituent groups.


(2)               Work with others throughout USDA and in other Federal agencies to coordinate the involvement of agency public affairs directors, State program directors, and regional public affairs staff in communications planning where appropriate.



6.          LIMITATIONS


a.             Promotion.  Information and news materials will not be used to advance USDA, agency, or individual opinions on broad subjects without reference to a specific program.  Neither agency offices nor OC will produce or distribute materials that constitute self-aggrandizement of USDA, agencies, or officials, or that are purely partisan in nature.  This policy does not limit an agency’s legitimate information dissemination or promotion activities.


b.            Influencing Legislation.  Unless requested by the Secretary or a Congressionally-confirmed member of the subcabinet, information materials will not be issued by USDA for the purpose of directly influencing Congress to vote for or against any legislation or appropriation.  Information which criticizes or aggrandizes elected or politically appointed officials, the Administration, or the Congress will not be issued as news materials by agency information offices or OC.  This restriction includes statements that the public contact elected representatives to support or oppose pending legislation.  (18 U.S.C. 1913)


c.             Endorsements, Commercial References, and Use of Brand Names.

Endorsements -- directly or indirectly -- of any commercial enterprise(s) or product(s) must be avoided whenever possible.  However, in recognition that occasions may arise when mention of specific commercial enterprises or products is in the public interest or is difficult to avoid, these occasions must be justified and explained in documentation that is forwarded with the draft release for clearance and retained as part of the official file.




The Office of Communications Office of Press Operations has oversight for dissemination of information and news materials through computerized means and via electronic mailing lists nationally from Washington, D.C.  Agencies may establish electronic, facsimile, and postal mailing lists to serve their particular needs, both in headquarters units and in field offices.  However, each agency will notify the appropriate Communications Coordinator when establishing a new distribution system, and, if requested, will promptly provide an electronic copy of the distribution list and its intended use. All mailing lists/codes, both in Washington and in the field, must be circulated and revised at least annually.






a.             The Office of Press Secretary will maintain a policy and style guide to be used by all USDA agencies and offices in preparing news materials.  The guide will provide policy and style guidelines not covered by these regulations.  Any news release style questions not covered in the USDA style book should follow the Associated Press style.


b.            Use of Logos/Marks.  Departmental Regulation 1430-002 outlines requirements and procedures to be followed by USDA’s mission areas, agencies, and staff offices in regard to the design and use of new and existing logos/marks (words, acronyms, symbols, insignia, devices, and combinations thereof), in program materials, by USDA’s mission areas, agencies, and staff offices to identify themselves and their programs, initiatives, legislation, events, etc., or the use on products and services by program participants to certify participation in or compliance with Department programs. 


This regulation applies to the use of the Official USDA Symbol and the Official USDA Seal.  The USDA Office of Communications “Visual Standards Guide” is the Official USDA Symbol and the Official USDA Seal guidance for proper use. See the Office of Communications “Visual Standards Guide” dated October 2012. The USDA Visual Standards Guide can be accessed at www.usda.gov/oc/. Under “Division”, select “Brand Events/Exhibits and Editorial Review” to download a PDF copy of the guide.


Clearance for external use of the USDA name and logo must go through OC, Brand Events, Exhibits and Editorial Review and Clearance Division.