The Obama administration faces the specter of another contempt proceeding after House Republicans said this week that they have run out of patience with the EPA, which has been slow to respond to subpoenas for documents.
Rep. Darrell E. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told a top Environmental Protection Agency official on Wednesday that he believes the agency isn’t conducting a valid search for documents related to potential misuse of government email addresses and other issues.
If the California Republican moves ahead with contempt proceedings, then it would be the third one — following on an earlier vote to declare Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over documents, and then this week a vote to find former IRS employee Lois G. Lerner in contempt for refusing to testify.
Mr. Issa said other outside investigators obtain email correspondence by searching computer records for keywords, but the agency tells its own employees to “self search” in response to requests from Congress, he said.
That arrangement is fraught with potential abuse and obstruction because employees who might’ve done something wrong can pick and choose which emails to turnover, he said at a House Oversight hearing Wednesday.
Mr. Issa’s remarks about his committee’s difficulty getting EPA records were largely overshadowed by embarrassing disclosures at the same hearing detailing outrageous examples of employee misconduct across the EPA, such as one high ranking career employee who spent up to six hours per day surfing pornography.
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“My patience has expired,” Mr. Issa said. “I want full cooperation and discovery and delivery of all relevant documents.”
On the same day, the House voted to hold Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS office that signed off applications for nonprofit status, in contempt for refusing to answer questions about targeting conservative groups for scrutiny.
The lawmaker didn’t say what records were being sought when he questioned EPA deputy Bob Perciasepe about what he called the administration’s “delay and denial” tactics.
Mr. Issa said he wanted the EPA to turn over records within a month or he’d bring a contempt motion to the committee to force action.
“I can’t imagine a situation where we would not comply,” Mr. Perciasepe replied.
Mr. Issa issued a subpoena last fall after an earlier request for EPA records as part of a joint investigation with Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, went unanswered.
The pair sought EPA communications with the White House about congressional requests for agency correspondence, including records related to former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson use of an email account under an alias, “Richard Windsor.”