A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that could have better defined the responsibilities of agency officials to create and keep records related to their decisions, although one of the sponsors of the case has said it will continue to pursue the issue.
The suit was filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and other groups alleging that then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt violated the Federal Records Act by not reducing to writing–in either paper or electronic format–what was said in relevant conversations.
After the judge initially held that the case could proceed to trial, the EPA in November–by then headed by Andrew Wheeler as acting administrator following Pruitt’s resignation–issued a memo to employees telling them to “take care to document the formulation and execution of basic policies and decisions, and the taking of necessary actions. It is particularly important that all employees understand that the Federal Records Act requirements apply to oral communications. All substantive decisions and commitments reached orally should be documented.”
In light of that memo, the judge recently dismissed the suit as moot. However, PEER has said that the EPA still “has an improperly narrow interpretation of what constitutes a record that should be preserved. In addition, oral communications with outside parties leading up to a decision are still not reduced to writing.”
The group said it continues to collect information about agency record-keeping practices and noted that a related suit is still pending, seeking to force the agency to disclose records regarding risks of exposure to formaldehyde.