House Republican wants watchdog probe of lost EPA text messages

A senior House Republican is pressuring an internal watchdog to investigate the Environmental Protection Agency’s record-keeping policies after finding that thousands of Administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyOvernight Energy: Officials close in on new global emissions deal EPA chief: US, negotiators nearing new emissions deal Overnight Energy: Warren defends Exxon probe | Pipeline firm reaches 7M oil spill settlement MORE’s text messages were deleted.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) sent a letter on Tuesday to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr. requesting the watchdog “review the EPA’s compliances with its records management policies.”

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At issue is the EPA’s admission to a federal court that agency officials may have lost text messages at the center of a lawsuit  by a libertarian think tank.

Earlier this year, McCarthy also told lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee in a separate investigation that her staff was having difficulty providing requested emails because of a hard-drive crash.

“These actions point to an apparent pattern of behavior directed at subverting transparency and accountability,” Smith wrote in his letter.

Smith also pointed out that McCarthy is not the first senior-level administration official to “face questions about lost or deleted federal records.”

“She is accompanied by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, and former Internal Revenue Service Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner,” the letter states.

The EPA contends that the text messages to and from McCarthy did not need to be saved and were not subject to disclosure.

Text messages can be deleted legally, EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said earlier this month.

“EPA is not aware of any evidence that federal records have been unlawfully destroyed,” she said.

Also, the agency has instructed employees since 2005 to save any content on mobile devices that may qualify as a federal record, the EPA said.

Lawyers representing the EPA are looking to the federal court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that because the records in question do not exist, the claim against them becomes moot.

Smith isn’t buying it.

“Federal guidelines are clear that all messages sent between agency heads and their colleagues must be preserved. Why delete thousands of text messages unless you have something to hide?” he said in a statement.

Americans deserve transparency from their government officials. Administrator McCarthy should either stop deleting text messages, or stop texting,” Smith added.