Former U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson appears to have used her personal email address for official business in a potential violation of federal record-keeping rules.
The discovery comes from the latest batch of emails EPA released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The conservative group has targeted EPA's electronic correspondence for months, after senior fellow Christopher Horner uncovered Jackson's use of a secondary email account under the alias "Richard Windsor" (E&ENews PM, July 15).
That account -- named after Jackson's dog and the town she grew up in -- used the epa.gov domain. But it isn't the only alternative email address Jackson used.
She also used a "home" email address. And unlike the "Richard Windsor" account, this one was ostensibly outside EPA's domain and the public eye.
Among the hundreds of pages of emails released last week, one string of correspondence stands out: the interaction between Jackson and Alison Taylor, a vice president at Siemens Corp.
Taylor emailed Jackson's "Richard Windsor" account on Dec. 8, 2009, asking Jackson whether she "might be able to spare a few minutes to meet with Siemens' global sustainabiliy [sic] officer (who is my boss) Barbara Kux."
"I know this is a very busy time for you, and I have explained this to her. She's a big fan," Taylor wrote.
Jackson agreed but then sent a second email with the line: "P.S. Can you use my home email rather than this one when you need to contact me directly? Tx, Lisa."
The email is likely to anger congressional Republicans, who have expressed concern that EPA employees may have used personal email accounts to conduct official business (E&ENews PM, June 27). Jackson's email to Taylor is the clearest indication so far that the former EPA administrator used a third, undocumented email address.
In an interview yesterday, Horner asserted that the email was "as close to an admission as you'll ever find" that Jackson purposefully conducted official business on a personal email account.
"That right there is a smoking gun," he said, later referring to Taylor as a "lobbyist" whose conversations with Jackson should be public. "What they're saying is 'I'm about to break the rules.'"
Horner said other emails indicate that Jackson gave out her personal email address to others, including reporters.
Though federal officials are technically allowed to use personal email for official business, they are required to copy their official email address on all correspondence. That ensures that it is captured for official record keeping.
But that rarely happens, said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Jackson's email to Taylor, she added, is "extremely troubling."
"I agree that was a very interesting line in there because it's clear that it was discussing agency-related business and this was someone that she knew in her capacity as administrator of U.S. EPA," Weismann said, later adding: "As difficult as it may be to capture all the emails that are sent or received when she uses [the Richard Windsor account], it's basically impossible to locate emails that are sent to or from a home email address."
EPA officials declined to provide details on how Jackson used the "home email" referenced in her email to Taylor. They also did not respond to a question on whether new Administrator Gina McCarthy ever uses a personal email account for agency business.
But in a statement, EPA pointed to an inspector general review on the agency's email practice.
That review began in December and was prompted by requests from CREW and lawmakers. In a memo, IG Arthur Elkins laid out several aims, including a determination on whether EPA "promoted or encouraged the use of private or alias email accounts to conduct official government business." The audit will also look at how the agency ensures employees comply with federal records management requirements when it comes to preserving records from private or "alias" email accounts.
"The Environmental Protection Agency is committed to adhering to the appropriate regulations and laws for both federal records management and email use," the agency said. "EPA continues to work with the Inspector General in its review of EPA's email practices and policies, and is prepared to give full consideration to any recommendations for improvements identified in that review."
But both Horner and Weismann said it was probably too late to retrieve any emails pertaining to agency business from Jackson's private account. Jackson is no longer an EPA employee, making it unlikely that the agency would be able to gain access to her personal accounts.
But to avoid the loss of official records in the future, Weismann contends that the government should prohibit employees from ever using personal email accounts for official business.
"I just think the risk is too high that those emails will never find their way into the agency's records," she said. "When you're talking about the head of an agency like Lisa Jackson, just about everything she does" is probably of public interest.