Six House leaders are pressing their demands for documents after a senior Environmental Protection Agency executive confirmed that Administrator Lisa Jackson has used a fake name and a secret email account while doing official business.
Arvin Ganesan, EPA's associate administrator for congressional and intergovernmental affairs, told the committee in a Dec. 12, 2012, letter that a secret email account identified as "Richard Windsor" was actually used by Jackson. But Ganesan did not provide the committee with any of the documents it had requested on the issue in a Nov. 15, 2012, letter.
The new letter made public today renews the committee's request for documents described in the November letter. Committee members are concerned that use of secret email accounts and fake names to conduct official business could hide their contents from public access via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The EPA's Inspector-General announced on Dec. 13 that it has opened an investigation into the use of such email accounts by EPA employees. It is against federal record-keeping laws and regulations to use a private or secret email account or fake name to conduct official business.
"While we understand the need for a secondary account for management and communication purposes, your choice to use a false identity remains baffling," said House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Chairman Ralph Hall, R-TX, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the panel's vice-chairman, in a letter sent today to Jackson.
"The potential for confusion, not to mention intentional malfeasance, is enormous," they said.
Also signing the letter were the committee's incoming chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX, Rep. Paul Broun, R-GA, chairman of the panel's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, Rep, Andy Harris, chairman of the panel's subcommittee on energy and environment, and committee member Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, R-CA.
"We remain concerned about whether EPA has adequately preserved these records and provided appropriate responses to requests for these records. We also question whether responses to records requests sufficiently connect the alias accounts to the real individual," the letter said.
Hall and the other House committee members want copies of all documents explaining EPA's justification for using the illegal email accounts and describing policies and procedures for using them, lists of all EPA employees who are or have used such accounts while doing official business and their aliases, and the names of all EPA employees who are or have used private email accounts for official business.
Jackson's agency previously admitted use of the Richard Windsor non de plume in a Nov. 13 statement to Politico. The agency statement claimed the secondary email account was needed because of the flood of emails Jackson typically receives on her public official email address. The specific name was selected by Jackson, who once had a dog known as "Richard Windsor," the agency said.
Politico also reported that former officials who served at EPA during the tenure of President George W. Bush said use of secondary email accounts was an accepted practice and commonly known.
But Politico also quoted an unnamed former EPA official saying "that they felt the need to create a nom de plume struck me as cloak and dagger."
The EPA IG investigation was triggered by a Nov. 20 request from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which noted that "the practice by Administrator Jackson of using fictious email accounts to conduct business in order to shield their contents and avoid public accountability conflicts directly with her responsibility under the Federal Records Act."
Earlier this year, Christopher C. Horner, a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) published a book entitled "The Liberals War Against Transparency" in which he revealed previously unpublished documents concerning the use of false names and secret email accounts by former Obama White House environmental czar Carol Browner while she headed EPA under President Clinton.
Horner has sued EPA in federal court seeking to force the agency to make public additional documents. Joining him in that suit were two CEO colleagues, Hans Bader, CEI's counsel for special projects, and Sam Kazman, the conservative think tank's general counsel.
The Examiner first reported Horner's suit Oct. 2, 2012, and noted that it "asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to order EPA to produce 'certain records pertaining to 'secondary,' non-public email accounts for EPA administrators, the existence of which accounts Plaintiff discovered in an Agency document obtained under a previous FOIA request.'
According to the CEI suit, the internal EPA memo, which was referenced in a Government Accountability Office report in 2008, described the secondary accounts as known only to "few EPA staff members, usually only high-level senior staff."