Watchdog: Watchdog Blog

UPDATED! Regional EPA official probed for illegal emails in 'Windsorgate' scandal

|
News,Watchdog Blog

James B. Martin, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region 8 Administrator in Denver, used a private email account to conduct official business in possible violation of federal open government and record-keeping laws, The Washington Examiner has learned.

"It appears that on at least one occasion you used an Apple me.com address, a non-official email account, to schedule an official business meeting," Martin was told in a letter obtained by The Washington Examiner and signed by Sen. David Vitter, R-LA and ranking minority member of the Senate Public Works and Environment Committee, and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA.

"Specifically, an email from Vickie Patton, the general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, to this private email said 'Hi, Jim, Next Monday or Tuesday December 12/13 at 9 am depending on which is best for you.' In response, you replied from this private email account with 'January 13 at 9:00 am works for me if that works for you (Lost your original note - is that the date and time you proposed?)," Vitter and Issa said in the letter to Martin.

Federal officials are barred from using private email accounts to conduct official government business except in emergency situations, and then are required to make all such communications available to their employing agencies for official record-keeping purposes and for responding to Freedom of Information Act requests and to congressional oversight inquiries.

Martin was appointed to the EPA post by President Obama in 2009.

Although, Vitter and Issa described only one instance of Martin's use of a private email account to conduct official business, they said in their letter that "it does not appear that this transaction was an isolated incident. Rather, the body of emails suggest you regularly used this personal email account to stay informed on matters relating to your official duties."

Martin was asked to "make yourself available for a transcribed interview with both committee staffs" and to provide copies of all private emails he has sent or receiving using a private email account for official business since April 1, 2010.

Vitter and Issa noted that in 2008 EPA told the Government Accountability Office that "EPA has a clear and consistent policy framework against the use of non-governmental email systems for official EPA business."

The senator and congressman also pointed out that in a 2009 briefing for incoming political appointees serving President Obama the agency instructed them to "not use any outside email account to conduct official agency business." And the letter reminded Martin that as recently as October 2012, the agency circulated a memo to employees reminding them that "EPA prohibits the use of non-EPA email systems when conducting agency business."

Go here for the full text of the Vitter/Issa letter to Martin.

The October 2012 memo was generated in response to a growing clamor in Congress and elsewhere about the use by then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson of a fake email name - "Richard Windsor" - to conduct official business in a manner that would not be accessible to FOIA requestors or federal record-keeping purposes.

Jackson resigned in December 2012 to return to private life. She has not since said what her next job, though she has been reportedly been considered for a leadership position at Rutgers University in her native New Jersey.

Jackson's actions were detailed in a book published last year and written by Washington attorney Christopher Horner and entitled "The Liberal War Against Transparency." Citing multiple sources, including GAO and EPA memos, Horner described a practice apparently dating from the Clinton administration in which top federal environmental officials used private email accounts and fake names on government email accounts to communicate illegally with each other and coordinate actions and policies with political and ideological allies outside the government.

Several House committees are conducting probes of the Windsorgate scandal and Vitter has made it a top priority of his work on the Senate panel. The Inspector-General for EPA is also conducting an investigation of the situation.

“We’ve seen EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s ‘Richard Windsor’ e-mails, and now we have a regional administrator who appears to be dodging the agency’s mandatory recordkeeping policy,” said Vitter. “The American people have to be wondering where this will stop. The EPA owes us all some answers about their absolute disregard for transparency.”

Issa added that "this administration took office promising to be the 'most transparent' in history, but repeated actions have undermined this ambitious goal. Investigations have revealed widespread disregard for transparency and record-keeping laws in multiple agencies and even in the White House.  We need to get this administration beyond just cleaning up the mess after they’re caught red-handed in flagrant violations of transparency laws and to address the root causes of failures to conduct public business transparently.”

The Washington Examiner has requested comment from Martin.

Agency denies any misuse of emails

A spokesman for the EPA provided the following statement in response to the Vitter/Issa letter:

"As detailed in public filings, the Regional Administrator does not use his personal email account to conduct official business. That Mr. Martin responded to one email sent to his personal email account to confirm a meeting that appears on his official government calendar does not alter that fact.

"In an abundance of caution and to be fully transparent, the Regional Administrator searched his personal email account and produced any email that contained the term the "Environmental Defense Fund", which are the emails cited by Senator Vitter and Chairman Issa in their inquiry. In producing these documents, the EPA and the Regional Administrator have gone beyond any legal requirements in our efforts to ensure full transparency."

 

View article comments Leave a comment