A Washington-based group that promotes government transparency asked the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general to investigate whether administrator Lisa Jackson set up an e-mail alias to shield official business from open records laws.
The EPA said administrators have used an e-mail account for public correspondence and a separate one for internal communications for more than a decade. The agency said it complies with the Freedom of Information Act and the Federal Records Act.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, said in a letter to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins yesterday that private e-mail accounts set up by Jackson and other EPA officials may be designed to evade transparency requirements.
Anne Weismann, chief counsel for CREW, said Jackson’s alleged use of the “Richard Windsor” alias would likely cause confusion that may mean FOIA responses are incomplete or important government records aren’t preserved.
“Someone just looking at this at first would have no idea that the person was in fact the administrator of EPA,” Weismann said. “The potential for confusion is great.”
The Federal Records Act of 1950 requires agencies to make and preserve records of decisions, policies and essential transactions. FOIA is designed to open up the process of government to citizens.
The allegation about alias e-mail accounts at the agency was first made by Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based group that promotes smaller government and has criticized EPA regulations.
Horner said he uncovered EPA administrators’ use of alias accounts while doing research for his book, “The Liberal War on Transparency.” Writing on National Review Online on Nov. 12, he said “two former fairly senior EPA officials” told him after the book’s publication that Jackson also used e-mail aliases, including Richard Windsor. He didn’t name the former officials.
Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee wrote to Jackson on Nov. 15 asking for all records relating to Richard Windsor and correspondence for other “dual, secondary or non-public e-mail accounts” used by senior EPA officials.
“The email address for the public account is posted on EPA’s website and is used by hundreds of thousands of Americans to send messages to the administrator,” the agency said in a statement. “The internal account is an everyday, working email account of the administrator to communicate with staff and other government officials.”
The public account received more than 1.5 million e-mails in fiscal year 2012, necessitating the need for the second account for “effective management and communication” within the agency, the EPA said.
The statement doesn’t address the specific allegation that Jackson used an account through the Richard Windsor alias. Alisha Johnson, an EPA spokeswoman, said the agency didn’t have a comment on the request for the IG investigation.
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