April 10, 2013

TRANSPARENCY: EPA memo promises emphasis on transparency after FOIA lawsuits.

Acting Administrator Robert Persiacepe circulated an agency-wide warning to Environmental Protection Agency employees yesterday about complying with the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Persiacepe’s memo was issued as EPA faces a growing controversy in the news media and federal courts sparked by revelations earlier this year that his predecessor used a fake email name to conduct official business. . . .

The EPA has been hit with a series of lawsuits seeking emails and instant messages and accusing the agency of hiding information from watchdog groups. The most recent lawsuit, filed last week by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the American Traditions Institute, seeks to force the agency to disclose how evenly its transparency policies are applied to environmental groups and transparency watchdogs.

“It is clear from Bob Perciasepe’s memo that our IM lawsuit prompted discovery of more EPA violations of record-keeping and disclosure laws,” said Chris Horner, lead attorney in the EPA FOIA suit. ”His mention of IMs for the first time publicly indicates EPA is about to reveal whether it has been sloppy, deceitful, or possibly even criminal in its refusals to turn these records over to FOIA requesters and Congress.”

Horner said he suspects the EPA has been destroying IM chat records to avoid being forced to release them.

Related: OMB nominee ‘uncomfortable’ promising to follow law on transparency about regulations.

Sylvia Burwell, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), told Congress that she’s “uncomfortable” with the idea of promising to publish the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda by the legally-deadline.

“Because I don’t know the facts behind what happened, that’s why I’m uncomfortable making a commitment, because I don’t know the facts behind the issue,” Burwell told Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, today during a Senate hearing.

Obama did not release a regulatory agenda in 2012 until December — “after the election, incidentally,” Portman observed — despite a law and a Bill Clinton executive order requiring that the White House release an agenda in the spring and fall of each year.

Portman wrote two letters about the issue to Obama last year, but never received a response.

They’re transparent, all right. You can see right through them.

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