Some of President Barack Obama's political appointees, including the Cabinet secretary for the Health and Human Services Department, are using secret government email accounts they say are necessary to prevent their inboxes from being overwhelmed with unwanted messages, according to a review by The Associated Press.
The scope of using the secret accounts across government remains a mystery: Most U.S. agencies have failed to turn over lists of political appointees' email addresses, which the AP sought under the Freedom of Information Act more than three months ago. The Labor Department initially asked the AP to pay more than $1 million for its email addresses.
The AP asked for the addresses following last year's disclosures that the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency had used separate email accounts at work. The practice is separate from officials who use personal, non-government email accounts for work, which generally is discouraged - but often happens anyway - due to laws requiring that most federal records be preserved.
The secret email accounts complicate an agency's legal responsibilities to find and turn over emails in response to congressional or internal investigations, civil lawsuits or public records requests because employees assigned to compile such responses would necessarily need to know about the accounts to search them. Secret accounts also drive perceptions that government officials are trying to hide actions or decisions.
"What happens when that person doesn't work there anymore? He leaves and someone makes a request (to review emails) in two years," said Kel McClanahan, executive director of National Security Counselors, an open government group. "Who's going to know to search the other accounts? You would hope that agencies doing this would keep a list of aliases in a desk drawer, but you know that isn't happening."
Richard Windsor may not ever have existed as an employee at the Environmental Protection Agency. But he was up to date on his training for both ethics and records preservation, according to emails revealed today by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Following up on revelations of former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s false-identity email account plainly in violation of the Federal Records Act and EPA policy, Christopher Horner, senior fellow at CEI, asked for any certification of Jackson receiving e-mail, recordkeeping and ethics training.
It turns out Jackson completed training in ethics for 2010, 2011 and 2012 as her alter ego/false identity, Richard Windsor, as well as training for document preservation and how to deal with whistleblowers.
‘Windsor’ scored a 100 on cyber security awareness, but had various scores – one as low as 75 – on whistleblower training.
Eric Wachter, director of the EPA’s Office of the Secretariat, said Jackson “completed the EPA-hosted, computer-based training while using [the Richard Windsor] account.”
‘Richard Windsor’ was the fake name Jackson used for an alternate email address created for certain correspondence with her inner circle both inside and out of government. EPA has claimed this account was for internal use only – one in a series of what seem to be false claims made to get past the seemingly endless revelations of unlawful behavior.