The Associated Press has uncovered what may become a vast new scandal for the Obama administration: the possibly widespread use of covert email accounts by political appointees, enabling evasion of sunshine laws designed to protect the public. Jack Gillium of AP reports:
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.
This looks very bad indeed. Former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has already lost her job owing to her use of the pseudonym “Richard Windsor” in correspondence with both agency officials and outsiders, including environmental activists.
These communications ought to be available through Freedom of Information Act requests, but the use of a covert email account circumvents FOIA search requests.
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…