American Oversight Statement on EPA Admission of Interference with FOIA

Watchdog Previously Sued EPA to End Agency Practice of Rejecting FOIAs

Nonpartisan ethics watchdog American Oversight released the following statement after a newly-published transcript revealed that political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) routinely interfered with processing of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

“It has been clear for over a year that the EPA was interfering with the public’s right to information under FOIA, but it’s still shocking to read this admission in black and white. The Freedom of Information Act gives all Americans the right to know what our government is doing, and it doesn’t allow political appointees to pick favorites or cover up embarrassing documents,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight.

In February 2018, American Oversight sued the EPA to end its illegal practice of delaying or denying FOIA requests. American Oversight’s lawsuit alleged that the EPA had established a pattern of systematically denying FOIA requests by incorrectly claiming that the requests were inadequately described.

In the transcript released today by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Democrats, EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson admitted that political appointees at the EPA, including in the public affairs office, routed “politically sensitive” FOIA requests through a separate review process, often delaying or denying specific requests.

American Oversight appears directly in the transcript. In one exchange, Congressional investigators ask Jackson about FOIA requests submitted by American Oversight and other groups, specifically asking if Jackson would help facilitate meetings for the groups to discuss their requests with EPA officials.

Q: Okay. If the Sierra Club, and [NRDC], American [O]versight reached out to [you] with similar requests would you facilitate a meeting for them?

A: It’s a possibility.

Q: Because they seem to all be having to litigate to get a response to their FOIA requests?

A: Well, I suggest that if they target their requests a little bit more so that I could more readily help them, that might help them out.

The full transcript was included in a letter sent to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Trey Gowdy by Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, requesting that the committee issue subpoenas to EPA to investigate FOIA interference.

Evers added: “American Oversight fully supports Congress’s efforts to get to the bottom of this political interference. In addition, American Oversight will investigate the matter ourselves and, mindful of the irony, we will submit new FOIA requests to EPA to uncover the truth.”

American Oversight has filed 9 lawsuits and submitted more than 50 FOIA requests to extract information from the EPA. Click here to view the EPA documents American Oversight has uncovered.