Faulty Watchdog Report Clears EPA Of FOIA Bias


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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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An Environmental Protection Agency political appointee refused to answer whether politics played a role in delaying Freedom of Information Act requests, but the department’s watchdog cleared the EPA of wrongdoing, anyway.

“We did not find any indications of political interference or delay in the release of FOIA documents,” an EPA inspector general report released Thursday said. “According to the EPA, while there have been delays in responding to FOIA requests, those delays were generally due to the complexity or volume of information requested.”

That conclusion was reached despite the refusal of EPA Chief FOIA Officer Ann Dunkin – an Obama administration political appointee – to say political appointees’ involvement in FOIA responses “never resulted in an undue delay” or withheld information, the report said.

“I do not consider this request feasible because non-career employees have FOIA responsibilities just like career employees,” Dunkin told the IG in an Aug. 14, 2015 memorandum.

Additionally, the “report was not conducted in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards” due to time constraints by the congressional requester, the IG said.

“However, we did the best we could in the limited time provided, including interviewing all agency FOIA officers and coordinators,” EPA IG spokesman Jeff Lagda told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Political appointees’ involvement with FOIA requests isn’t the problem, said Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow Chris Horner.

“The issue is whether EPA’s FOIA officers have interfered with processing,” Horner told The DCNF in an email. “They have.”

Officials at EPA told CEI, a conservative free-market group, that its FOIA request for records regarding former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s alias email account “Richard Windsor” would take about 100 years to fulfill.

Yet, both career and appointed officials told the IG that political appointees’ involvement was limited.

“The EPA’s Agency FOIA Officer told us that, in his 11 years with the agency, he has never been told by a political appointee how to respond to a FOIA request,” the report said. “None of the interviewees described any situations where the involvement of political appointees resulted in undue delays or inappropriately withheld information.”

Horner argued that the IG failed to prove that political interferences weren’t a problem and said that the watchdog has previously avoided reaching “uncomfortable issues or conclusions.”

“As usual, the report didn’t answer the question anyway,” Horner said.

CEI obtained documents in 2013 that showed since January 2012 the EPA granted fee waivers for 92 percent of FOIA requests from major environmental groups that support its policies and programs and rejected or ignored 81 percent of fee waiver requests from conservative groups.

The IG also reported in 2014 that the EPA had no bias in awarding fee waivers for FOIA requests.

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