Former U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson today defended her use of a secondary email account while in office and said she had made every effort to ensure that her communications complied with federal record-keeping policies.
Jackson appeared this morning before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee as part of a hearing on transparency from federal officials. That included several rounds of questions on Jackson's use of an email alias named Richard Windsor and officials' use of personal email accounts to conduct government business.
But Jackson -- now vice president of environmental initiatives at Apple Inc. -- said that her secondary account was not only a standard practice at the agency for the administrator but that she tried to comply with federal laws regarding all of her email accounts, including her personal one.
"On one hand, there can certainly be honest and reasoned debate over my judgments, and on the other hand, there are some who want to theorize that there is a hidden agenda," Jackson said in her first extensive public comment on the matter.
"The principal reason I wanted to come here today is to make it perfectly clear that it was my practice to ensure that any official business conducted by me or through my email accounts was appropriately captured for record-keeping purposes," she said.
Congressional Republicans have alleged that EPA has not subjected the secondary account to federal records laws and that the email practices are indicative of a culture of secrecy in the agency. Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) cautioned that "very clearly, emails have been lost" from EPA.
Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday issued a report accusing EPA of having a "culture of secrecy and evasion" during Jackson's tenure by idling some emails and for failing to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests properly (E&ENews PM, Sept. 9).
Issa pressed Jackson on an email released in August to Alison Taylor, a vice president at Siemens Corp., in which Jackson wrote, "P.S. Can you use my home email rather than this one when you need to contact me directly? Tx, Lisa" (Greenwire, Aug. 14). That, Issa said, made it sound like Jackson was trying to conduct official business with a lobbyist through her personal account.
But Jackson rebuffed the allegation, saying that Taylor had requested an official meeting through the proper channels and that Jackson was trying to move a personal conversation to her personal account.
In that case and others, Jackson said, "it was always my intent to comply with [federal] requirements."
U.S. archivist David Ferriero testified and said the email alias practice was legal as long as the archives are preserved but said that the government does discourage the use of personal email for official business.
Also appearing at the hearing was Jonathan Silver, a former Department of Energy official who headed the controversial loan program at the center of the Solyndra scandal. Silver acknowledged that in the rush to distribute the DOE loans, he had on occasion used his personal email "in an effort to be as efficient and productive as possible."
Those emails, he said, would be forwarded to an official account to comply with record-keeping requirements. He did admit that he did not have a full understanding of personal email retention policies when he left the administration in 2011 but that he turned over any relevant documents after being made aware of the requirements.
Committee charges intervention
Issa also presented at the hearing what he called a "disturbing" email to a committee staff member from a lobbyist that he said represented potential interference with Silver's appearance before the panel.
The email came from an employee at a law firm representing Silver, who is now with the think tank Third Way, and asked that the committee not grill him.
"If possible ... do not direct questions to Jonathan Silver. ... He's a client of my firm," read the email, which closed with a smiley face emoticon.
Silver said he could not explain the email and was not aware of it.
Issa said the email "crosses the line" and said he and committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) would seek "an explanation from [Silver's] counsel."
"The question of whether we refer this to the Bar Association, whether in fact it's an interference with Congress, which I find it to be, and the like, will need to be resolved with the ranking member and myself after this hearing," Issa said.