Congress should vote against legislation limiting federal employees’ free speech
The Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act—the ironic title of H.R. 140—purports to prevent federal government employees from using their authority to engage in online “censorship,” but in reality would increase the very type of government censorship it claims to prevent. CREW urges the members of the House to oppose H.R. 140, which would place limits on the free speech of government employees.
The act puts extremely broad limitations on federal employees’ ability to moderate harmful internet conduct, including significantly complicating the government’s ability to fight foreign propaganda, terrorist recruiting, misinformation and other forms of harmful conduct taking place online. Additionally, the act would effectively hinder key law enforcement activities, since it requires employees to report plans to pursue law enforcement activities to Congress 72 hours in advance, effectively prohibiting law enforcement from executing their duties for three days, which is far too long a period when it comes to the spread of dangerous information online. The act also is clearly an effort designed to intimidate federal employees with its requirement for agencies to report to Congress the name of the employee who suggested a posts’ removal.
Moreover, although H.R. 140 introduces a new sweeping prohibition on government conduct, ironically it excludes members of Congress or their staff—leaving the very legislators who are concerned about so-called censorship free to do the exact activities that this legislation seeks to prohibit.
If the proponents of H.R. 140 were really concerned about government censorship, they would oppose Governor DeSantis’s efforts to effectively censor the speech of teachers by rejecting a plan for a new Advanced Placement class on African American studies forcing the College Board to purge the names of several Black scholars from their curriculum and removing instruction on contemporary racism, and they would address the ban placed by a Tennessee school district on a graphic novel about the Holocaust for “inappropriate language.” But proponents of H.R. 140 have not expressed similar concerns about these examples.
This legislation builds upon Congress’ attack on federal employees—earlier this year, they codified the ability for lawmakers to reduce or eliminate federal agency programs and slash the salaries of federal workers. Additionally, this would come at a time when attracting new federal employees is urgent as a significant portion of the federal workforce is expected to retire soon.
H.R. 140 is not truly about government censorship, but rather about a political dispute between conservatives and social media companies over posts that violate their terms of service. H.R. 140 pulls federal employees into this political battle without regard for their privacy, security and freedom of speech. CREW strongly urge members of Congress to reject this attack on federal employees and vote against H.R. 140.