WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight, today sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inspector General Arthur Elkins, Jr. requesting that the EPA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conduct a review of EPA career officials’ reported use of encrypted messaging applications to conduct official business.
“According to media reports, a group of approximately a dozen career EPA officials are using an encrypted messaging application, Signal, to discuss potential strategies against any attempts by newly-appointed political officials to redirect the EPA’s priorities in ways that depart from initiatives spearheaded by Obama Administration appointees,” the letter states. “Reportedly, this group of career officials at the EPA are aiming to spread their goals covertly to avoid federal records requirements, while also aiming to circumvent the government’s ability to monitor their communications . . . . Over the past few years, we have seen several examples of federal officials’ circumventing Federal Records Act requirements and transparency generally. In this instance, the Committee is concerned that these encrypted and off-the-record communication practices, if true, run afoul of federal record-keeping requirements, leaving information that could be responsive to future Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and congressional requests unattainable.”
Today’s letter can be found here.
The committee has previously investigated several instances in which federal employees attempted to conceal official communications to circumvent federal record-keeping requirements. Last December, in response to committee concerns about EPA officials using text messages to conduct official business, the EPA OIG issued a report that detailed its analysis of 3.1 million text messages sent or received on government-issued devices from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015, and found that only 86 were preserved as federal records. This heightens concerns about federal employees using encrypted messaging applications to conduct official business, as preservation of these messages in accordance with federal record-keeping requirements is nearly impossible.