Republican lawmakers on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee warned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Thursday they may take “formal action” to pry information from the department regarding outgoing EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s use of secret email addresses.
Committee Republicans in a letter said the agency failed to properly respond to requests for records about the use of non-public email accounts by EPA officials, including Jackson.
The GOP-led committee implied a subpoena could be issued if the EPA does not meet its requests, warning “failure to respond may result in formal action requiring EPA’s compliance.”
“The American public deserves to know whether administrator Jackson’s secret email accounts were appropriately maintained by the agency according to requirements by federal law,” Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R., Tx.) said in a statement.
The chairman said Jackson’s use of a secret account may have been “intended to evade transparency and circumvent congressional oversight.”
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) first revealed that Jackson used a secondary email address under the name “Richard Windsor” to conduct official business, a potential violation of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) disclosure laws.
“Richard Windsor” is reportedly the name of Jackson’s family dog.
The EPA is releasing more than 12,000 emails from Jackson’s alias account, “Richard Windsor,” in response to a court order.
The agency released the first of three batches on Jan. 14, but CEI senior fellow Chris Horner said the results were “deeply troubling and seem to have gravely compounded the unlawful activity we have exposed involving a false identity assumed for federal recordkeeping purposes.”
Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) also questioned the EPA’s disclosure.
The EPA redacted names in the email. However, Vitter says the FOIA exemption used by EPA does not apply to the released documents.
“This strikes me as incredibly fishy and begs a number of important questions,” Vitter said in a statement. “The EPA needs to honor the president’s pledge of transparency and release these documents without redaction of the administrator’s email address a big first step toward removing the blanket of secrecy in this agency.”
“EPA’s supposed reliance on ‘precedent’ is especially misleading because they’re clearly using a separate and distinct practice than previous administrations,” Vitter said. “And if ‘Richard Windsor’ is no more than a standard work email account, why not share the unredacted versions and prove it to the American public?”
Liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has also condemned Jackson’s use of a pseudonymous email address.
“The fact that others may have engaged in such conduct before her tenure is no justification. ‘Everybody does it’ is an excuse for kindergarteners, not cabinet officials,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement.
The EPA’s inspector general announced in a Dec. 13 memo that it would begin an investigation into the affair to determine whether the agency “follows applicable laws and regulations when using private and alias email accounts to conduct official business.”
The EPA says the use of secondary email addresses by administrators has been common practice for two decades as well as a necessary practice given the enormous amount of emails public accounts receive.
“Given the large volume of emails sent to the public account—more than 1.5 million in fiscal year 2012, for instance—the internal email account is necessary for effective management and communication between the administrator and agency colleagues,” an EPA spokeswoman previously told the Washington Free Beacon. “In the case of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, both the public and internal accounts are reviewed for responsive records, and responsive records from both accounts are provided to FOIA requesters.”
Jackson recently announced she is stepping down as EPA administrator.