EPA Employees to Destroy Federal Records
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking advantage of a loophole and destroying millions of Federal records each year. It all has to do with cellphones and texting. When only 86 texts are archived out of more than 3 million sent and received, something stinks. Do you find it hard to believe that there were that many personal texts sent? Me neither.
As Written and reported by Minutemen News:
Always a loophole….
Posted with permission from Daily Caller News Foundation
A loophole in federal law allows Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees and other federal workers get away with deleting millions of official records created using cellphone text messaging, according to government transparency experts.
The Federal Records Act (FRA) and EPA policy allow individual employees who create and receive cell phone text messages to decide whether a particular one constitutes a federal record before deleting or preserving it.
That makes it difficult to say EPA employees violated FRA when they archive only 86 out of 3.1 million text messages as official business documents sent and received in 2015.
That’s “clearly a conflict of interest,” said Chaim Mandelbaum, counsel for the non-profit government watchdog Energy and Environment Legal Group. Mandelbaum’s group focuses on transparency and accountability issues in the federal government.
“My feeling is that it’s far more likely (than not) that the law was circumvented – it’s just impossible to prove because you lack the evidence,” Mandelbaum, who has worked on legal cases involving the EPA’s records retention issues, told The Daily Caller News Foundation (TheDCNF).
“The idea that there were no federal records destroyed seems very questionable to me,” Mandelbaum added.
Mandelbaum and other federal records and transparency experts say it’s naive to believe EPA officials followed federal laws and policies and lost no vital information by properly preserving so few texts and allowing senior EPA officials to configure phones to automatically delete texts after 30 days. Those were the findings in a Wednesday EPA Office of Inspector General (IG) report, which claimed no officials “intentionally” circumvented federal law in failing to archive millions of records.
But the EPA’s “staggeringly” low number of preserved texts presents another problem, said James Valvo, senior policy adviser for nonprofit watchdog Cause of Action Institute (CofA). CofA is a frequent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filer. If employees are chronically using government-issued phones to conduct personal business, that’s a misuse of federal property, says Valvo.
“These are not people’s personal phones,” Valvo told TheDCNF. So, if people are sending 3 million personal texts on government phones, “that’s a problem.”
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which is responsible for implementing the FRA, says that “electronic messages created or received in the course of agency business are federal records.” EPA policy says that employees who generate and receive records are legally required to maintain them, and any substantive or “non-transitory” communications – messages that are still relevant after 180 days – should be transferred to an electronic records management system, as the IG noted in its report. That system includes texts.
“In February 2015, the EPA updated its records management policy, which details the agency’s requirements for handling electronic messages – such as text messages – as electronic records,” the IG report said.
“The policy states that EPA staff that generate and receive records are legally required to maintain them, and the policy further requires electronic records – such as substantive or non-transitory text messages – to be transferred to an electronic records management system,” the report said.
But that doesn’t stop an employee from deleting texts at his own discretion, Mandelbaum said.
“Generally, truly transitory records aren’t required to be preserved, but the problem all too often is that the line there is fuzzy and the decision-making is given over to the people whose interest in transparency is the least,” Mandelbaum said.
That of course creates a problem for FOIA requesters, said Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org.
“We are concerned with any practices for records retention that allow employee discretion in ….
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