Obama Administration Using Secret Email Accounts To Avoid Public Record Requests

Yesterday we learned that former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson was using a fake email address named after her dog to avoid public records requests. Today comes news from the Associated Press that using phony email accounts is a common practice in the Obama administration.

Some of President Barack Obama’s political appointees, including the secretary for Health and Human Services, 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 Obama administration is trying to justify the practice by saying the split email accounts allow administration officials to keep public and internal emails separate, but the Associated Press can’t seem to verify that this is actually the case:

Agencies where the AP so far has identified secret addresses, including the Labor Department and HHS, said maintaining non-public email accounts allows senior officials to keep separate their internal messages with agency employees from emails they exchange with the public. They also said public and non-public accounts are always searched in response to official requests and the records are provided as necessary.

The AP couldn’t independently verify the practice. It searched hundreds of pages of government emails previously released under the open records law and found only one instance of a published email with a secret address: an email from Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio to 34 coworkers in 2010 was turned over to an advocacy group, Americans for Limited Government. It included as one recipient the non-public address for Seth D. Harris, currently the acting labor secretary, who maintains at least three separate email accounts.

Google can’t find any reference on the Internet to the secret address for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Congressional oversight committees told the AP they were unfamiliar with the non-public government addresses identified so far by the AP.

Just to illustrate how dedicated the Obama administration is to that “most transparent administration ever” label they given themselves, the Department of Labor initially tried to charge the AP a million bucks for access to the emails.

Now that’s transparent.

But the idea that administration officials need two separate email accounts is ridiculous. These people have staff to help them with email volume, and even free email services have robust filtering tools.

It seems far more likely that the secret email addresses exist specifically to hide communications from public scrutiny.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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