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House panel wants probe of secret emails at White House, EPA, other agencies

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Photo - EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (AP Photo)
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (AP Photo)
News,Mark Tapscott,Watchdog

Majority leaders of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology are taking a close look at allegations that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and other senior officials appointed by President Obama have used illegal secret email accounts to conduct government business beyond the reach of transparency laws like the Freedom of Information Act.

"The use of these accounts could seriously impair records collection, preservation and access, therefore compromising transparency and oversight," committee chairman Rep. Ralph Hall, R-TX, said in the letter.

"The use of alias accounts that are not known to staff responsible for retaining and providing access to records seriously causes me to question the fidelity of previous responses to the public through the FOIA, but to the Office of Inspector General, as well as to the Congress," Hall said.

In addition to possible violations of the FOIA, Hall said use of secret emails by government officials could violate the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act, and "many other statutes designed to facilitate transparency and oversight."

Signing the letter with Hall were committee vice-chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr, R-WI, Rep. Paul Broun, R-GA, who is chairman of the panel's subcommittee on investigations and oversight, Rep. Andy Harris, R-MD, who heads the committees energy and environment subcommittee. Also signing were committee members Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX, and Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, R-CA.

The Washington Examiner reported Sept. 11, 2012, that a federal lawsuit was filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute seeking to force EPA to make public documents, including email sent by EPA Regional Administrator James Martin using a secret email to communicate with officials at the Environmental Defense Fund concerning federal environmental policies.

Then on Sept. 28, The Examiner reported that a new book by CEI fellow Christopher Horner described in detail how multiple EPA officials during the Clinton and Obama administrations used secret emails to discuss and plan proposals and changes in federal environmental policies and programs among each other and with individuals working for environmental advocacy groups, many of which receive significant amounts of federal funding via grants and contracts.

In their letter, Hall and the other committee members cited examples of secret email being used by officials at the departments of commerce and energy, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The committee leaders also sent letters to the IGs at EPA, and the departments of Commerce and Energy seeking the following information:

* Whether it is possible to determine the extent of private email use by federal employees to conduct official business;

* Whether [EPA/DOC/DOE] has appropriate procedures in place to collect, maintain, and access records created by personal email accounts or aliases;

* Whether [EPA/DOC/DOE] has provided appropriate -training for staff related to the use of personal email accounts or aliases;

* Whether [EPA/DOC/DOE] has ever reprimanded, counseled, or taken administrative action against any employees for using personal email accounts or aliases;

* Whether officials promoted or encouraged the use of private or alias email for conducting official government business;

* What steps your office took to ascertain which officials use private email or alias accounts to conduct official business, what the content of those discussions were, and any recommendations your office may have to ensure the agency's compliance with all relevant statues, regulations, and directives.

For more on the Hall letter, go here.

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.

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