By Ben Geman - 04/11/13 06:08 PM EDT
President Obama’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency assured Republicans on Thursday that she does not use personal email accounts to conduct official business.
Republicans have slammed the use of personal email accounts by other EPA officials, arguing they are being used to shield decision making from public view.
But Gina McCarthy, who now serves as EPA’s air quality chief, said she’s always used government systems for her work.
“I do not conduct business through personal email,” McCarthy told Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee who is vetting her nomination.
McCarthy said she has used a personal account only for convenience in moving documents, and in a way that ensures the communication is available under public records laws.
“There are times when I have gone home to Boston and I have used my personal email to send documents from EPA.gov, from my office to home for printing and review purposes to facilitate those, but those have never left the government email system, those have always been sent back and are discoverable, and they would comply with FOIA and the Federal Records Act,” McCarthy said at her nomination hearing Thursday.
Republicans are probing the use of private accounts as part of wider allegations that the EPA’s work lacks transparency.
“There has been a pattern of abuse using personal email accounts at EPA,” Vitter said Thursday. “It is clear that this practice in many cases was used to hide information from the public.”
Conservative groups have sued the agency in an effort to obtain instant messages that might have been sent to and from McCarthy, as well as messages to and from Jackson and another former official.
But McCarthy, who is the EPA's top air pollution regulator, said Thursday that she doesn’t conduct business over instant messaging, either.
“One good thing about being 58 is I don’t know how to use them,” McCarthy said. “I have never used an IM. I don’t know how.”
The agency has defended the use of Jackson’s secondary federal account, noting that past administrators have used them as well. They’re needed for communication with colleagues because the administrator's public account gets a massive volume of messages, according to the EPA.
It has, however, recently acknowledged the need to improve aspects of its records management amid allegations that the agency is not transparent enough. The agency's inspector general is currently reviewing the EPA's practices.