Another agency tells Congress: File not found

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the IRS share a problem: officials say they cannot provide the emails a congressional committee has requested because an employee’s hard drive crashed.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy confirmed to the House Oversight Committee Wednesday that her staff is unable to provide lawmakers all of the documents they have requested on the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, because of a 2010 computer crash.

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“We’re having trouble getting the data off of it and we’re trying other sources to actually supplement that,” McCarthy said. “We’re challenged in figuring out where those small failures might have occurred and what caused them occur, but we’ve produced a lot of information.”

The revelation came less than two weeks after IRS officials told Congress that Lois Lerner, the official at the center of the controversy over the targeting of conservative tax-exempt groups, also suffered from a hard drive crash that makes it difficult to comply with records requests.

The committee suspects that Phillip North, who worked for the EPA in Alaska, decided with his colleagues to veto the proposed Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay in 2009, before the agency even began researching its potential impacts on the environment.

Committee staffers have been trying for about a year to interview North, but he has been in New Zealand and refuses to cooperate, they said.

“We have tried to serve a subpoena on your former employee and we have asked for the failed hard drive from this Alaskan individual who now is in New Zealand, and seems to never be returning,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the committee’s chairman, said Wednesday.

Emails provided by the committee show that EPA told congressional investigators about the hard drive crash months ago. But McCarthy said she only told the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) about the problem Tuesday.

The NARA enforces the Federal Records Act, which governs federal agencies’ responsibilities to maintain records.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said EPA probably violated the Federal Records Act by not backing up North’s emails.

“It looks like the Federal Records Act has been violated by the EPA,” Meadows said. Did he preserve his emails? That is required by the Federal Records Act.”

“We may have some emails that we cannot produce that we should have kept,” McCarthy admitted.

The Federal Records Act has also taken center stage in the IRS controversy. David Ferreiro, head of the NARA, told lawmakers Tuesday that the IRS did not follow the Federal Records Act in its policies for preserving emails.