Open Gov

More top officials found using secret email accounts

E-mail circling the globe

An Associated Press investigation has found that high-level political appointees in the Obama administration are using secret email aliases, in part to avoid the cluttered inboxes of their public email accounts.

Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson used an email account under the name of "Richard Windsor," which came to light in 2012. Now, AP has learned that Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, used a secret government email account for correspondence, separate from her public email address. Other senior officials at HHS used non-public email addresses, according to the report. Acting Labor secretary Seth D. Harris has three official email accounts, including one that was kept secret.

When the AP initially requested the email addresses of political appointees from the Labor department, the agency said the search would cost more than $1 million – a rather high price tag for a Freedom of Information Act request. The agency said the search would take 14 weeks, entail pulling 2,236 backup tapes and require 50 people to search records. The department eventually dropped the high fee, saying it was a mistake.

At HHS, the agency's FOIA director said there were, "no mechanisms in place to determine if such requests for the creation of secondary email accounts were submitted by the approximately 242 political appointees within HHS."

Jackson's pseudonymous email was the subject of a House Oversight Committee investigation earlier this year. Officials justify the practice by noting that their official in-boxes are clogged with e-mail, and aren't much use for running day-to-day departmental affairs. Problems arise, say transparency advocates, when correspondence using such alternate or secret email addresses is not archived in the appropriate place, or included in FOIA requests for email records.

The AP is still seeking lists of email addresses for political appointees at ten other agencies.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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