Congressional Republicans are investigating another high-ranking Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official for using a personal email account to conduct official business.
Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) sent a letter Tuesday to EPA Region 8 administrator James Martin, who the legislators say used a personal me.com email address to set up a meeting with a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund.
"We are concerned that your use of the me.com email account may be an attempt to circumvent the Federal Records Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and Congressional oversight," the lawmakers wrote.
Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow Chris Horner, author of The Liberal War on Transparency, said the ongoing investigations were "a good start" to improving accountability at the EPA.
"It appears that EPA may be on the road to accountability for widespread, deliberate actions ostentatiously flouting federal record-keeping and disclosure laws—the basis for vaunted promise of transparency that apparently only extended to releasing Bush-era records," Horner said. "In this administration, have found not only private email accounts and false-identity email accounts, but the use of private computers, privately owned and managed servers to host sensitive discussions, and even systematic document destruction admitted to in an affidavit."
According to the letter sent by lawmakers, Martin used his personal email address to set up a meeting with Vickie Patton, the general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. The meeting took place in the EPA Region 8 office.
Outgoing EPA administrator Lisa Jackson is also under investigation by the agency inspector general and several House committees for using a secondary, non-public email account to conduct official business.
"We’ve seen EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s ‘Richard Windsor’ e-mails, and now we have a regional administrator who appears to be dodging the agency’s mandatory recordkeeping policy," Vitter said in a statement. "The American people have to be wondering where this will stop. The EPA owes us all some answers about their absolute disregard for transparency."
Federal officials are only allowed to use private email accounts to conduct official business in emergency situations, and when they do, they are required to keep communications available for record keeping, responding to FOIA requests, and responding to congressional inquiries.
Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said such actions undermine the Obama administration’s transparency goals.
"Investigations have revealed widespread disregard for transparency and record-keeping laws in multiple agencies and even in the White House," Issa said. "We need to get this administration beyond just cleaning up the mess after they’re caught red-handed in flagrant violations of transparency laws and to address the root causes of failures to conduct public business transparently."
The letter to Martin notes "it does not appear this was an isolated incident."
"Rather, the body of emails suggests that you regularly used this personal email account to stay informed on matters relating to your official duties," the letter said.
Martin and Jackson’s actions are at odds with multiple executive branch and agency directives if true.
The EPA wrote to the Government Accountability Office in 2008 saying, "EPA has a clear and consistent policy framework against the use of nongovernmental email systems for official EPA business."
EPA political appointees were instructed by the Obama administration in 2009 to "not use any outside email account to conduct official agency business."
The letter also reveals that the EPA sent an agency-wide email reminding employees the "EPA prohibits the use of non-EPA Email Systems when conducting agency business."
Martin’s email was produced in litigation between the Competitive Enterprise Institute and EPA. It was first reported in the Daily Caller.
The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Environmental Defense Fund did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Region 8 EPA office declined to comment when reached by phone.