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By Rebecca Kern
March 23 — House Republicans are probing Energy Department officials' use of private e-mail accounts to conduct business and the department's firing and rehiring of a scientist after she met with staff of a House committee.
Following in the footsteps of the Republican investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of private e-mail as secretary of state, Republicans serving on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology criticized the Energy Department in letters and during a March 22 hearing with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz about the use of personal e-mail accounts for DOE-related work.
In a March 23 letter to Moniz, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the committee, and three other Republican lawmakers stated, “The committee is concerned that these e-mail practices, if true, raise significant information security concerns, leaving potentially sensitive material susceptible to compromise.”
The letter cited a news media report—based on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests—on the use of personal e-mails by Moniz and other top DOE officials. The letter also raised concerns about DOE not responding to parts of the FOIA requests, including requests for information housed in Moniz's personal e-mail account.
Testifying before the committee, Moniz said he wasn't aware of DOE withholding any information in response to a FOIA request, but noted that he does use two separate DOE e-mail accounts.
“One of which is my ‘private account' that I get e-mails directly, and another which is frankly the public-facing account, which gets screened by the executive secretary,” he said at the March 22 hearing.
He said that whenever an e-mail relevant to DOE business is sent to his non-work-related e-mail address, he copies it to both of his DOE accounts so that there can be a complete government record of the e-mail exchange.
Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), one of the committee members who signed the letter, asked Moniz during the hearing whether any other DOE officials had personal e-mail accounts they used for work business.
Moniz said, “To my knowledge, no one is using personal e-mail for business, without having it in the government record.”
Palmer asked Moniz whether Moniz and DOE staff follow the federal law requiring government officials to copy business-related e-mails to government accounts within 20 days of receipt in a personal account.
“I can assure you, with me it's 20 seconds,” Moniz said. “I'll go back and check with the general counsel, and we're happy to reinforce the guidelines to everyone.”
The letter also expressed concerns about the department's Office of Inspector General report in September 2015 that found DOE isn't managing e-mail records according to federal requirements. The lawmakers requested all documents and communication related to the report and progress implementing its recommendations.
The letter also requested all documents and communication in response to FOIA requests about personal e-mail use, and possible information withheld by the department, as well as a list of certain employees who maintain two government e-mail accounts. The letter requested a response to Congress by April 6.
Committee Republicans also questioned Moniz during the hearing about the firing of a DOE scientist six days after she met with the committee staff for an October 2014 briefing on the DOE Low Dose Radiation Research Program.
Moniz said she has since been reinstated, and that there was a confidential settlement reached between the employee and the department.
“We're concerned about an intimidation factor in regard to other employees who might talk to members of our staff,” Smith said during the hearing.
Smith and Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) sent a letter Feb. 26 to Moniz requesting all documents related to the incident.
“I'm committed to providing documents, as much as we can, within the constraints of what the general counsel says, given there are things that are proprietary,” Moniz said.
While the committee received a response from DOE on March 4, the department didn't provide any communications or e-mails related to the incident, a committee aide told Bloomberg BNA March 22.
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