Members of the House Oversight Committee questioned current and former members of the federal government on Tuesday over email aliases and personal addresses used to conduct official business. The use of personal email to conduct government business came under fire since doing so make archiving correspondences more difficult and could potentially be used to obfuscate communication that should hypothetically be publicly available under the Freedom of Information Act.
"This trend very clearly began, according to our investigation, in the later part of the Bush administration. But it has not been corrected. In fact, it has proliferated," Darrell Issa, the committee chairman said.
Under particularly close scrutiny was Lisa Jackson, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who used a secondary alias "Richard Jackson," a reference to her dog and her New Jersey residence. She claimed that the national archivist had advised her against picking an obvious pseudonym.
The use of alternate email addresses is sometimes necessary for conducting business:
“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, flashing annoyance when Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) brought up the issue yet again after it had already come up earlier in the hearing and was addressed in her opening testimony. The agency has said a secondary email account was necessary for administrators to avoid being swamped by hordes of emails flooding into their well-publicized main account.
Jackson also came under fire for telling an executive at Siemens to "use my home email account … when you need to contact me directly." Jackson stated that she knew the recipient in a personal matter, but Issa countered that the grey area between friend and lobbyist was "was what the [Jack] Abramoff scandal was about."
The former head of the loans program at the Department of Energy, Jonathan Silver, was also questioned, for telling employees, "Don't ever send an email on [Department of Energy] email with a personal email [address]. That makes them supoenable." Issa speculated that Silver was trying to bury emails pertaining to the botched Solyndra deal.
Based on various reports of the hearing, it is unclear whether anyone brought up that there might be another way to track down non-government emails used for official business.