FEDweek

Probe Sought of EPA Employee Compliance with Records-Keeping

The chairmen of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and its oversight subcommittee have asked the EPA’s inspector general to review whether employees’ communications with each other there are being kept as official records as required.

The letter from Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Darin LaHood, R-Ill., follows media reports that some employees have used encrypted messaging applications “to discuss potential strategies against any attempts by newly-appointed political officials to redirect the EPA’s priorities in ways that depart from initiatives spearheaded by Obama administration appointees.”

“Reportedly, this group of career officials at the EPA are aiming to spread their goals covertly to avoid federal records requirements, while also aiming to circumvent the government’s ability to monitor their communications … Over the past few years, we have seen several examples of federal officials’ circumventing Federal Records Act requirements and transparency generally. In this instance, the Committee is concerned that these encrypted and off-the-record communication practices, if true, run afoul of federal record-keeping requirements, leaving information that could be responsive to future Freedom of Information Act and congressional requests unattainable,” it says.

In response to similar concerns the committee raised, the IG last year reported that of 3.1 million text messages sent or received on government-issued devices by EPA employees over a 12-month period, only 86 were preserved as federal records.

“This heightens concerns about federal employees using encrypted messaging applications to conduct official business, as preservation of these messages in accordance with federal record-keeping requirements is nearly impossible,” the two said in a statement.