EPA IG: ‘No Evidence’ Lisa Jackson Used Fake Name, Private Emails to Evade Transparency Laws
(CNSNews.com) – Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inspector General Arthur Elkins, Jr. “found no evidence” that top agency officials - including former Administrator Lisa Jackson – used fake names and private email accounts to hide their official correspondence from the public in order to evade federal transparency laws.
But attorneys for the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which has filed several federal lawsuits alleging that EPA officials did precisely that, scoffed at Elkins’ acknowledgment that his investigation was “based only on discussions with these senior officials.”
“It’s kind of comical that he’s come out and said that he’s relying on the very people who are accused of violating federal open government laws to tell him whether there’s any problem,” CEI attorney Hans Bader told CNSNews.com.
“The violations are widespread and deliberate,” CEI senior fellow Chris Horner added, accusing the inspector general of “willful blindness” for suppressing “the extent and seriousness of the violations" of federal transparency laws that have already been revealed in court.
The OIG report did note that EPA lacks “internal controls to ensure the identification and preservation of records when using private and alias email accounts for conducting government business,” warning that “if these critical issues are not corrected, the agency faces the risk that records needed to document the EPA’s decisions would not be available.” (See EPA OIG report.pdf)
The audit of EPA’s records management system was done in response to a request by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology after it was publicly revealed that Jackson, who resigned last December, had been using the alias “Richard Windsor” to privately correspond with environmental activists, senior Obama administration officials, and lobbyists regarding official EPA business, including the Obama administration’s “war on coal.”
“Richard Windsor” – a combination of Windsor, N.J., where Jackson’s family lives, and the name of her dog, Ricky - was even certified by EPA as a “scholar of ethical behavior.” The phony EPA employee supposedly also completed training courses in records management, cyber security and counter-terrorism.
Horner discovered Jackson’s email alias when he submitted a request to EPA for documents containing the key words “coal, climate, endanger, and MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology Standards)” under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) while doing research for his 2012 book, “The Liberal War on Transparency.”
Horner did not receive documents from Jackson's "Richard Windsor" account. However, an “obscure” EPA memo indicated that Jackson had been using a fake identity to communicate the administration’s coal policy, which was later confirmed by the Justice Department after CEI filed its "Richard Windsor" lawsuit against EPA.
In response to motions filed in that case, Horner said he received some 1,400 emails that are “redacted in full, with even the ‘To’, ‘From’, ‘Date’, and ‘Subject’” lines “missing.
A motion CEI filed in federal court on Sept. 11 disclosed that “the largest class of redactions… is discussion about media coverage of EPA, hardly a sensitive topic within the heartland of the deliberative-process privilege.” (See CEI v. EPA 9-11-13 motion.pdf)
“No one’s challenged secondary email accounts. You can have 12 as long as all of them are searched” in response to FOIA requests,” Horner said. “The issue… is the creation of a false identity for certain federal correspondence and record-keeping purposes.”
Testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this month, Jackson blamed EPA staff for making her use “Richard Windsor” as an email alias instead of a generic user name.
“I suggested that we label the second account ‘adminjackson’ or something similar with my name or title in it. But career staffers recommended using a full name, since the e-mail address database was publicly available and searchable,” she testified. (See Jackson statement.pdf)
Secondary email accounts “could potentially contain federal records or other documents subject to Freedom of Information Act requests or litigation holds,” the OIG report stated, but EPA only started developing policies and procedures on them last October after “Richard Windsor” was publicly exposed.
EPA’s lack of “consistent practices regarding what steps employees should take to preserve federal records” present “risks to the agency’s records management efforts” as required under the Federal Records Act, the report concluded.
In response to the audit, EPA officials said they have launched a “multi-faceted training effort to ensure every employee at the agency understands his or her records management responsibilities,” adding that they will conduct mandatory training in 2014.