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Climate change is out. Resilience is in. Victims of domestic violence are now victims of crime. Foreign aid for refugee rights has become aid to protect national security. Clean energy investment has been transformed into just plain energy investment.
The federal government is undergoing a rebranding under President Trump although not all at his direction.
As Trump sets new priorities for Washington sharply at odds with what the town has seen for the past eight years, some officials working on hot-button issues such as the environment, nutrition and foreign aid are changing the names of offices and programs that might draw skepticism from the conservative Republican leaders he has installed atop agencies.
While entire departments are changing their missions under Trump, many of these rebranding efforts reflect a desire to blend in or escape notice, not a change in what officials do day-to-day at least not yet, according to 19 current and former employees across the government, and nonprofit officials who receive federal funding.
I do think it exemplifies a general sense of looking at our programs, looking at the way we characterize our activities, and trying to rebrand or repaint them in ways that hopefully make them less of a target, said one Energy Department employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe the changes inside the government.
The changes in messaging come as Trump and his Cabinet leaders are setting new priorities and that will increasingly change the operations of most agencies as time goes on and the administration gets lower-level political appointees into top posts.
The Environmental Protection Agency has shifted from enacting climate change regulations to reversing them, while the Energy Department has moved from boosting prospects for renewable energy to promoting President Trumps fossil fuel-focused agenda. The Trump State Department is aiming to cut spending on diplomacy and foreign aid, and the Agriculture Department has backed away from Obama-era rules to ensure healthy school lunches.
I think youre seeing a combination of people trying to stay below the radar so they dont get whacked, and also trying to morph so they can accommodate what the new administrations point of view is going to be, said Adam Cohen, who served as deputy undersecretary for science and energy at the Energy Department from October 2015 until this month.
Some of the most striking examples of rebranding come from agencies dealing with energy and the environment, where references to climate change and clean energy have sometimes disappeared.
In late April, the Energy Investor Center replaced the Department of Energys Clean Energy Investment Center, which was founded in early 2016 to help the private sector better learn how to put money into renewable technologies.
Language about the focus on the clean and alternative energy market vanished from the programs website.
The old Web link, which included the word clean, redirects to one that doesnt, according to an analysis by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, which tracks government website changes affecting the environment.
Energy spokeswoman Lindsey Geisler saidthese changes were not ordered by the Trump administration but were made by career staff to better reflect the broader focus of the project, which includes all traditional and nontraditional energy sources.
Its our own career staff, theyre in their Keep their head down, maybe they wont cut our budget mode, said an Energy Department staffer who also spoke anonymously because the employee was not authorized to speak publicly.
At two other federal agencies the EPA and the Federal Highway Administration programs have shifted to talking about resilience rather than climate change.
The EPAs Climate Ready Water Utilities site was renamed Creating Resilient Water Utilities even before the inauguration, the timing of which suggests it was unlikely that Trump appointees were involved in the change.
At the Federal Highway Administration, a website focused on the environmental impacts of cars and other forms oftransportation replaced a page addressing climate change with one about sustainability sometime in January.
Another page, on climate change adaptation, morphed into one titled resilience, and the overall program, formerly known as the Sustainable Transport and Climate Change group, was renamed the Sustainable Transportation and Resilience group.
The rebrandings extend beyond the energy and environment sphere.
A key Obama-era initiative at the Agriculture Department called Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, which brought together seven farm-to-table nutrition programs, was moved from the agencys main website to an obscure one within the USDAs Agricultural Marketing Service, where it appears under the blander Local & Regional Food Sector. Instead of highlighting farmers markets, organic agriculture and a Farm to School program, the site features Opportunities for Farmers and Ranchers and guidance onAggregating, Processing and Distributing.
Development programs, facing potentially drastic funding cuts to international aid, have reframed their missions to de-emphasize Obama-era priorities such as womens health and climate change and instead play up regional stability and religious freedom in areas where Christians are persecuted.
Civil servants running data-driven initiatives are trying to figure out how to reframe their work to appeal to a White House that has so far taken an ideologically driven Ready, fire, aim approach to understanding many of our federal programs, said Daniel S. Holt, founder of the Washington-based consulting firm Anchorage Partners and USAIDs director of public engagement from 2015 to 2017.
Staff shouldnt feel their jobs are threatened by those who havent looked into the efficacy of the programs theyre going after, Holt said. These are civil servants who have sworn an oath to faithfully do their jobs in service of our country.
The rebranding has been made easier by a vacuum in political leadership at most agencies, where five months after Trump was sworn in, Cabinet secretaries have few if any of their senior leaders in place. Many of these changes have gone unnoticed as civil servants await policy direction from appointees who have not been confirmed by the Senate or even nominated.
The retooling poses risks. The more overt the changes, the more they leave digital fingerprints that are easily noted in an era in which outside groups and journalists are scrutinizing government sites and data sets for any sign of changes. Reframing cant escape the Internet archive.
Nongovernmental organizations reliant on federal funds are getting the message, too. One federally funded international aid organization that works in more than 50 countries now highlights its development work as a counterweight to violent extremism and a vital tool to shore up the national security interests of the United States. By stabilizing institutions in volatile parts of the world, the organization is saying to its partners and stakeholders, it is lessening the chance of a mass migration of refugees to the United States a policy that is in line with the Trump administrations America-first priorities.
The work is the same, but its a question of talking a little bit more about one thing versus another, said an official with the group, who spoke on the condition that it not be identified.
Other services that survive on federal funding say they are trying to determine the significance of budget cuts if they do not rebrand.
Domestic violence programs that receive money from the Justice Department and Health and Human Services have traditionally attracted bipartisan support. But bracing for cuts, some advocates say they are shifting their talking points. Futures Without Violence, a nonprofit group that receives federal funding to fight domestic and other forms of violence, is emphasizing its role helping victims of crime instead of violence to better align with the administrations affinity for law enforcement.
There were victims on January 18 and there were the same victims on January 20 when Trump was inaugurated, said Kiersten Stewart, the groups director of public policy. Might we highlight certain voices? Of course.
Career employees are used to changing directions with new administrations. But Michael Termini, chief of staff at the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower protection group, is still concerned about how government employees are responding to the current environment.
Its not somebody telling me, Dont post that,? he said, but Im afraid that if I do, theyre going to pounce.
We call that, in the whistleblowing world, a chilling effect.
Some career employees are simply keeping their heads down. Managers are actually not moving forward with new material for fear of actually being noticed, said one EPA employee who was not cleared to speak in public and asked for anonymity.
There are cases that look like outright censorship. The EPA took down its entire climate change website, an informational resource dating back to the Clinton administration, even though climate scientists say it is accurate and career staff resisted the move.
And there are changes that are almost imperceptible. At the U.S. Forest Service, the banner atop the website of its Office of Sustainability and Climate Change dropped a single word change sometime after Feb. 1, according to the Internet Archive. It now says Sustainability and Climate instead of Sustainability and Climate Change.
But the rebranding is pervasive. Even an agency as focused on climate change as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is shifting its messaging.
One marine scientist who works with state and local governments and other groupssaid that he and his colleagues are playing down climate as a factor in the protection of ocean habitats because they quickly realized that its a hot potato.
Were being encouraged to look at things holistically, said the scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. He described the change in approach as self-driven because were trying to lay low.
Were trying not to be explicit about climate change anymore, the scientist said.
Chris Mooney and Lisa Rein