Agriculture secretary also used a secret email account

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Add the secretary of agriculture to the list of senior Obama administration officials using secret email accounts to conduct official business.

The Associated Press revealed this week that this is a common practice within the administration, which some argue is a way for officials to avoid federal transparency laws.

The AP reported that the heads of the the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services used secret email addresses for internal communication, which has been criticized as a way for administration officials to skirt public oversight.

Previously FOIAed emails from the Environmental Protection Agency show that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack used a secret, nonpublic email account to communicate with the secret email account of former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson which used the fake name Richard Windsor.

A 2009 email exchange between Jackson’s alias account and Vilsack reveal that the Agriculture Secretary was using an account “jd@osec.usda.gov.” The email between Vilsack and Jackson is almost completely redacted, but the subject line reads: “Daily Climate Change Talking Points–COP 15.”

Email Exchange between Vilsack and Lisa Jackson

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney acknowledged the use of secret email accounts within the Obama administration, arguing that it made sense for high-level officials to use alternate email accounts to keep their inboxes from being flooded with emails and spam. Carney also said that such emails are subject to government records requests and congressional oversight.

“There’s nothing secret,” Carney told reporters.

However, the AP notes that it “reviewed hundreds of pages of government emails released under the federal open records law and couldn’t independently find instances when material from any of the secret accounts it identified was turned over.” Furthermore, the AP reported that congressional oversight committees said they were  not familiar with the secret email accounts obtained by the AP.

Congress also expressed surprise at reports that former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson was using an alias email account to conduct official business. Congressional investigations followed and the EPA inspector general even began an investigation into agency records practices.

Last year The Daily Caller News Foundation reported that Jackson was using the Richard Windsor account to conduct official business. It was subsequently revealed by Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter that Jackson had used her alias account to correspond with environmental groups.

“While the president promised transparency, he and the people he chose to lead various sections of his administration are very clearly failing to deliver,” Vitter told The DC News Foundation in an emailed statement.

“The release of the infamous ‘Richard Windsor’ email alias documents has led to the discovery of even more, widespread inappropriate record-keeping practices within the EPA and multiple other Agencies,” he added. “At the end of the day this is about the president’s leadership, and thus failure to deliver on yet another promise.”

The USDA did not respond to The DC News Foundation’s request for comment.

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