Oversight

Issa probes EPA head's fake email identity

Lisa Jackson

'Richard Windsor,' better known as EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, is the subject of a Congressional inquiry touching on transparency. (EPA Photo)

The House Oversight Committee chairman is ordering more specifics on the use of “alias” e-mail accounts used by the departing administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct government business.

In a Jan. 15 letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of the Committee of Oversight and Government Reform questioned her use of an e-mail account under the name of "Richard Windsor." He noted that his committee has investigated similar “nontraditional e-mail practices,” with the most recent probe examining Energy Department officials’ use of personal email accounts to dodge regulations such as the Freedom of Information Act.

EPA’s secret accounts were first uncovered in April 2012 by the author Christopher Horner during book research. After filing FOIA requests to which EPA never responded, the Competitive Enterprise Institute -- where Horner is a senior fellow -- sued the agency, according to a timeline posted by CEI.

In November, Horner learned about Jackson’s alias account, and the matter soon became a focal point for the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. On Dec. 13, an EPA inspector general audit was launched to review whether EPA followed applicable laws and regulations when using private and alias e-mail accounts to conduct official business.

Jackson’s use of an alias e-mail account raises obvious concerns, and expediency or convenience should never be an excuse to evade transparency, said Joe Newman, director of communications for the Project On Government Oversight.

He also questioned the process of obtaining the e-mails from the alias account.

“The ‘Richard Windsor’ account was supposedly subject to FOIA, but did a requester have to specifically request e-mails sent under the ‘Richard Windsor’ account or were they included in any request that was made for Jackson's e-mails on a particular subject?” he asked. “I don't know the answer to that, but if those Richard Windsor e-mails weren't produced during a FOIA request for Jackson's emails, then that certainly goes against the spirit and intent of FOIA.”

Issa’s letter is calling on Jackson to provide more details on her alias account, including all communication from and to “Richard Windsor,” as well as EPA’s email policies and names of employees with more than one e-mail account. EPA was also asked to release 12,000 emails from Jackson’s nom de plume account; so far, 2,100 have been made publicly available.

But that number did not impress Horner, who called for quicker action and more transparency from EPA.

“First, 2,100 is two-thirds of the way to the agency’s commitment (possibly the agency also will determine two-thirds of 12,000 is sufficient, although we have our doubts),” he said in a Jan. 14 statement. “Perhaps seeking to take the air out of a growing scandal, EPA’s defective compilation boasts an impressively anemic content-to-volume ratio.”

Anne Weismann, chief counsel at watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called the number of released emails “troubling.”

By looking at the entire body of communications from and to that account, “it’s going to be telling to see if [Jackson] acted in secret or if it’s as innocuous as some say. That’s an awfully small number of emails to have been processed,” she said.

Jackson announced her resignation in late December and plans to step down after President Barack Obama’s Feb. 12 State of the Union address, after a 25 year-career with EPA.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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