The Environmental Protection Agency this week acknowledged that Administrator Lisa P. Jackson has a second official email that she uses for important communications, but said it’s a standard practice and doesn’t shield her from open-records requests.
EPA’s statement comes a few days after the House Science, Space and Technology Committee said it was conducting an investigation into Mrs. Jackson’s emails, after researcher Christopher Horner revealed the secondary email’s existence.
“For more than a decade, EPA administrators have been assigned two official, government-issued email accounts: a public account and an internal account,” the agency said in a statement, adding that Mrs. Jackson’s public email is available online and gets hundreds of thousands of messages, making it necessary to have another address.
“The internal account is an everyday, working email account of the administrator to communicate with staff and other government officials,” the EPA said.
The agency said the public and internal accounts are both checked whenever someone makes a request for Mrs. Jackson’s emails under the Freedom of Information Act, which is the chief open-records law the press and the public use to try to uncover information from federal departments and agencies.
Mrs. Jackson’s public email, firstname.lastname@example.org, is listed on the agency’s website. Mr. Horner uncovered that she also got email under the name of Richard Windsor — the account she used to do business within EPA.
The House committee last week asked Mrs. Jackson to provide details of her email accounts and asked the EPA’s inspector general to look into whether Mrs. Jackson or other officials had used secondary or private emails to skirt disclosure.
Mr. Horner, the researcher who exposed the secondary EPA email and who just published the “The Liberal War on Transparency: Confessions of a Freedom of Information ‘Criminal,’” a book that delves into government secrecy, said there are still too many questions about whether officials are trying to hide their dealings from the public.
“We simply have too much experience with secretive bureaucrats hiding public work on private email accounts, servers and computers, and rationalizing why they should not search for or produce records they worked to keep secret, to trust but not verify,” he said.
Also Tuesday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog, also called for an inspector general’s investigation.
“Administrator Jackson’s practice of using fictitious email accounts to conduct official EPA business, shielding the contents from public view, conflicts directly with her responsibility to follow federal records law,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “The fact that others may have engaged in such conduct before her tenure is no justification. ‘Everybody does it,’ is an excuse for kindergartners, not Cabinet officials.”
The administration’s commitment to transparency has come under fire after news reports revealed that some White House officials were scheduling meetings with lobbyists at a coffee shop across the street from the White House, which meant they avoided being logged in as visitors in records open to the public.
The House committee also said some Energy Department officials used private emails to conduct government business to try to shield themselves from scrutiny.
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Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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