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Aug. 15 — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and other senior officials occasionally use personal e-mail accounts to conduct official EPA business but take steps to ensure those communications are properly preserved, according to documents Bloomberg BNA obtained.
Officials used nongovernmental e-mail accounts for work purposes in “limited instances,” such as when technical problems prevented them from remotely accessing their official EPA accounts, Ann Dunkin, chief information officer for the agency, wrote in a May 27 letter obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
“The administrator very rarely used her personal e-mail account for agency business purposes and, based on her recollection, did so when she was unable to access her EPA e-mail account due to remote access issues, or where there was a need to print at another location, such as at home,” she said in the letter to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“It is her general practice to ensure that messages are captured in the EPA's e-mail system either because they were forwarded into the EPA's system or they were already in the EPA's system and forwarded solely for printing at home,” Dunkin said.
E-mail habits of federal officials have received national attention after revelations that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton exclusively used a private server for official business while serving as Secretary of State. Johnson first sent his letter to the EPA in February as part of a broader examination of how federal agencies preserved records created through nonofficial e-mail channels.
Prior EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson faced her own e-mail controversies in 2013 after revelations she used a private account to communicate with a vice president at Siemens Corp. Republicans accused her of using the account to skirt federal transparency laws and held up the McCarthy's confirmation over the controversy.
In response to that squabble, the agency issued a policy document on properly preserving federal records. That document stated that “[o]fficial agency business should first and foremost be done on official EPA information systems,” but directed employees—if they need to use nonofficial channels—to copy records onto official agency systems within 20 days.
“EPA strongly discourages the use of personal e-mail or other personal electronic messaging systems, including text messaging on a personal mobile device, for sending or receiving agency records, but to the extent such use occurs, the individual creating or sending the record from a non-EPA electronic messaging system must copy their EPA e-mail account at the time of transmission or forward that record to their EPA e-mail account within 20 days of creation or sending,” the February 2015 policy said.
Dunkin's letter also said all EPA employees receive mandatory annual training on how to properly manage federal records.
Also in the letter, Dunkin said the EPA was aware of the “occasional use” of personal e-mail accounts by senior agency personnel for official business, but linked such use to internal technology problems. “This can happen during times when remote access to the agency's server is not operating, such that employees are unable to access their EPA official accounts,” she said.
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