WASHINGTON – Seven months after resigning as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Lisa Jackson returned to the hot seat Tuesday to refute allegations she had abused her official email accounts and used her own private account to circumvent open records requirements.
Jackson, who used an email under the alias “Richard Windsor” at the EPA, said the practice of using a secondary official account was common among former administrators from both parties.
“I had a secondary official government account like my predecessors before me, and that was done for time management and to be able to do my job,” Jackson said in prepared remarks.
Jackson, who became Apple’s top environmental official in May, explained she chose the name because her family lived in the town of Windsor and her family dog was named Ricky. Jackson said she used the account to communicate with her staff and senior members of the White House administration and to survive the overload of communications.
“The EPA has estimated that the administrator receives well over a million e-mails every year. That’s a new email message almost every 30 seconds, around the clock, 365 days a year,” Jackson said.
The House Oversight and Government Reform hearing focused on the practice in government of using private email and alias accounts for official business.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the committee’s chairman, said the problem began at the end of the Bush administration, but in spite of President Obama’s promises to improve transparency the problem has gotten worse in the past five years.
“It is the commitment of this president, orally and in writing, to be the most transparent in history,” Issa said. “Transparency requires two things. One, that you let the sunshine in, and secondly, that the information be available in the sunlight.”
Issa also noted that contrary to their testimony, officials have not taken care to forward their private emails pertaining to government business to their official accounts.
“Very clearly emails have been lost,” he said.
Allegations that Jackson used her personal email account to circumvent federal records laws are largely based on one email in which Jackson told a Siemens employee to contact her using a personal account instead of the Winsdor account.
In December 2009, Jackson told Alison Taylor, a vice president at Siemens, to use her home email account if Taylor needed to contact Jackson directly.
“I believe she is a registered lobbyist,” Issa said about Taylor.
“The way I knew her was in a personal manner,” Jackson replied. “I was telling a personal friend, ‘Hey, if you want to… contact me at home,’” Jackson said. She said that if anything came to her home account that was business-related, her practice was to forward it to her official account.
“I apologize, but that was what the Abramoff scandal was about,” Issa said. “People said they were friends, when in fact he was a lobbyist.”