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Some Obama political appointees using secret email accounts

By The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Some of President Barack Obama’s political appointees are using secret government email accounts to conduct official business, The Associated Press found, a practice that complicates agencies’ legal responsibilities to find and turn over emails under public records requests and congressional inquiries.

… The AP reviewed hundreds of pages of government emails released under the federal open records law and couldn’t independently find instances when material from any of the secret accounts it identified was turned over. Congressional oversight committees told the AP they were unfamiliar with the few nonpublic government addresses that AP identified so far, including one for Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the Health and Human Services Department.

The White House said the practice was also used by previous administrations, but its scale across the government remains a mystery: Most federal agencies have failed to turn over lists of political appointees’ email addresses, which the AP sought under the Freedom of Information Act more than three months ago. The Labor Department initially asked the AP to pay more than $1 million for its email addresses.

The AP asked for such addresses following last year’s disclosures that former chiefs at the Environmental Protection Agency had used separate email accounts at work. The practice is separate from officials who use personal, nongovernment email accounts for work, which generally is discouraged due to laws requiring that most federal records be preserved.

Having separate accounts could put an agency in a difficult spot when it is compelled to search for and release emails as part of congressional or internal investigations, civil lawsuits and public records requests. That’s because employees assigned to compile such responses would necessarily need to know about the accounts to search them. Secret accounts also drive perceptions that government officials try to hide actions or decisions.

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