Richard Windsor, meet To Carter.
As congressional Republicans and outside groups have raised concerns about the use of a government email alias by a former Obama administration U.S. EPA chief, one of former President George W. Bush's administrators this morning discussed his own use of an alternative email.
Stephen Johnson said that after he was sworn in as the 11th EPA administrator of EPA in May 2005, a staffer set him up with an alternative email address. Johnson said he used the email alias infrequently but it was occasionally a useful tool for conducting business inside the agency.
"I do recall that there were ... public accounts and there were accounts internally," Johnson said in an interview. "To the best of my knowledge, the agency and my staff followed all the rules appropriately for disclosure [when it came to his alternative email account], whether it's [Freedom of Information Act inquiries] or congressional requests."
A source familiar with EPA email usage during Johnson's tenure said his alternative email address was ToCarter@epa.gov. Johnson declined to confirm that address or say why that alias was selected. But a search of Johnson's biography on EPA's website shows that one of Johnson's five grandchildren is named Carter. Johnson acknowledged today that Carter was born 10 years ago, before he was named EPA administrator.
The discovery of former Obama EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's alternative email address last year was quickly labeled as "Windsorgate" in some Washington circles. The name Richard Windsor was developed by combining the name of a family pet and East Windsor, N.J., a town where Jackson lived.
Congressional Republicans and outside groups have questioned why Jackson needed an alias email account and whether her use of that account violated federal record-keeping laws (Greenwire, Jan. 24).
Along with inquiries from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the Energy and Commerce panel, EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins has opened his own probe to determine whether EPA "established and implemented oversight processes to ensure employees comply with federal records management requirements pertaining to electronic records from private or alias email accounts."
Among the questions that have been raised regarding Jackson's alternative EPA email account is who was privy to the address.
Christopher Horner, a senior fellow in the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), who first discovered the use of the email address last year, has said that his research shows the universe of individuals who sent messages to the Richard Windsor account included people both inside and outside the government. It includes some green industry representatives, Jackson's former colleagues, her family members, some regional administrators and about two dozen senior agency officials, Horner said.
EPA officials have said the Richard Windsor address was an "internal account" used to communicate only with staff and other government officials.
EPA has said that for more than a decade, EPA administrators have been assigned two official, government-issued email accounts: one public, the other internal. The email address for the public account is posted on EPA's website and is used by hundreds of thousands of Americans to send messages to the administrator, EPA has explained, while the internal account is an "everyday, working email account of the administrator to communicate with staff and other government officials."
EPA has said that when Freedom of Information Act requests are made, both public and internal accounts are searched to comply with federal laws.
This morning, Johnson declined to speculate on how Jackson used the Richard Windsor account.
But during his tenure, Johnson said, the alternative email account was occasionally more helpful than using his public account to communicate with staff.
"When we would issue anything for notice and public comment, or if there were a group of people who were upset with an upcoming decision or decision that I made, then it was not unusual for the public EPA administrator account to be flooded literally with thousands and thousands and thousands of emails," Johnson said.
Johnson said that a review of his usage of his alternative account would show that he used it infrequently and that it was often used to send happy birthday wishes and congratulatory messages to staff.
But he also said he probably also used it for conducting more official agency business.
"You need to have a way of conducting orderly business," and that's what the alternative address was for, he said. "As part of that orderly business, [you need] to be able to discuss and get input on decisions. ... You need to be able to have candid conversations with your staff about those."
Asked who had access to the email address, Johnson said that to the best of his knowledge, the secondary address was only for internal use, though he said he couldn't recall whether perhaps a member of his family used the address to get in touch with him.
"I didn't have any secret private email account that I was the only person that looked at," he said.
Although Jackson has left the agency, the furor over the Richard Windsor account both on and off Capitol Hill has not died down.
In the meantime, acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe has been tasked with helming EPA.
According to an EPA spokeswoman, an alternative email account "is in process of being set up" for Perciasepe. The spokeswoman said the account will be "subject to the same rules and regulations of any other official EPA email account."