EPA inspector general audits agency’s use of secret email accounts

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Last week the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of the Inspector General announced an audit of the agency’s electronic records management practice to determine if it follows the law when conducting official business using private and alias email accounts.

“Our objective is to determine whether EPA follows applicable laws and regulations when using private and alias email accounts to conduct official business,” reads a memorandum from EPA Assistant Inspector General for Audit Melissa Heist. The audit was announced in response to a request last month by the House Science Committee.

Citing a report by The Daily Caller News Foundation revealing Lisa Jackson’s alias email account, the House Science Committee sent a letter to Jackson demanding that the EPA provide documents and information related to the use of alias email accounts.

“The use of these [hidden] accounts could seriously impair records collection, preservation, and access, therefore compromising transparency and oversight,” said the letter sent from House science committee chairman, Texas Republican Rep. Ralph Hall.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee also pressed Jackson on the use of private and alias email accounts last week. The committee requested written responses from the EPA by Dec. 21, 2012.

“We recognize the utility of a secondary, internal email account for the conduct of agency business,” wrote Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan and Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida in a letter to Jackson that was sent last Thursday. “We seek to understand whether conducting business with an alias has in any way affected the transparency of the agency’s activities or the quality or completeness of information provided to the Committee pursuant to Rules X and XI of the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Among other things, the Inspector General’s office will look at is whether or not the EPA “[p]romoted or encouraged the use of private or alias email accounts to conduct official government business.”

According to Chris Horner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the practice was instituted by Carol Browner, former director of the Obama White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy and Bill Clinton’s EPA administrator.

“I stumbled across an obscure EPA memo admitting to the ‘alias’ accounts having been created by someone who also had ordered her hard drive and backup tapes erased (Carol Browner), and that the accounts were set on auto-delete,” Horner told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. (RELATED: Republicans continue to press EPA’s Lisa Jackson on secret email accounts)

“That is, everything about their origin screamed abuse, and controls were supposedly instituted,” he added. “Later, EPA again promised to get its act together on the heels of a Government Accountability Office inquiry.”

“All of which tells us that systems can always be abused; it isn’t the system, but politicians naming people to positions of authority who will abuse that authority,” Horner continued.

Last month, the Horner told The Daily Caller News Foundation that he learned from two former EPA officials that EPA Chief Jackson used an alias email account under the name “Richard Windsor.”

“Richard Windsor” was just “[o]ne of the alternate email addresses she used,” said Horner, meaning there could be more.

The Daily Caller News Foundation was also provided screenshots showing that the Richard Windsor account was installed onto three computers under Jackson’s name.

“This is a complete link between the Windsor email address and Jackson,” a source with direct knowledge of the agency told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“For more than a decade, EPA Administrators have been assigned two official, government-issued email accounts: a public account and an internal account,” the EPA said in a statement in response to the House Science Committee’s letter. “The internal account is an everyday, working email account of the Administrator to communicate with staff and other government officials.”

The EPA did not immediately respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

“Hopefully the IG and House committees can get to the bottom of this and other deceptive, unlawful and in some cases criminal practices to hide what the Obama administration and its allies are up to and which I reveal in The Liberal War on Transparency,” Horner concluded.

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