Obama administration defends secret email accounts

A White House spokesman said Tuesday there’s nothing secret about the secret email accounts held by administration officials, and defended the practice as sensible time management.

Asked about revelations that some Obama Cabinet officials, including former EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, have used secret alias email addresses, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the subterfuge “makes eminent sense” because those officials would otherwise be swamped with unwanted messages. He said other administrations also have used the secret — or in his words “alternate” — email accounts.

“There’s nothing secret,” Mr. Carney said. “It’s about having a public email address as well as … one for internal, you know, workings.”

While at EPA, Ms. Jackson used the email address “Windsor.Richard@epa.gov” for important business. The agency even awarded the fictional staffer’s email account certificates proving that the alter ego had mastered all of the EPA’s technology training.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that other administration officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, also use secret email accounts. The news service said the scope of the practice remains a mystery because Cabinet agencies have failed for three months to respond to requests under the Freedom of Information Act for lists of political appointees’ email addresses.

Government watchdogs say the use of secret email accounts can complicate investigations by Congress or other government agencies, or inquiries involving lawsuits, to uncover requested documents. They also fear that the use of such accounts could allow the information to be forgotten or overlooked after the government official leaves his or her job.

“The obvious and inescapable consequence of any account not showing the official’s name — like Richard Windsor, which contrary to administration and its defenders’ claims was never employed by previous administrators — is to frustrate record-keeping and disclosure laws,” said Christopher Horner, the researcher and senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who uncovered the practice at EPA.

“Unless they provide tangible evidence that such accounts are regularly searched and produced, from my experience, it merits a presumption that they aren’t,” Mr. Horner said.

Mr. Carney said all work email accounts of political appointees are subject to FOIA requests, regardless of whether the official has used an alias account.

“Any FOIA request or congressional inquiry includes a search in all of the email accounts used by any political appointee,” he said. “All of this information is provided.”

Mr. Carney also said that White House employees are “counseled very clearly that we do not use and should not use private email accounts for work,” a claim that Mr. Horner called “demonstrably false.”

“I’ve proved [in a book] it’s epidemic among this administration, and started out of the White House,” he said.

Mr. Carney wouldn’t say whether White House officials hold secret email accounts, although he himself uses an email address that isn’t in the traditional format employed at the White House. He said he does so because his predecessor, Robert Gibbs, announced Mr. Carney’s intended email address to the world about one week before Mr. Carney started his job as White House press secretary.

“I changed it so that I wouldn’t be inundated with … tons of emails and spam and the like,” Mr. Carney said, adding that the media has access to his current email address.

“That’s a very reasonable thing to do,” he said.

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