EPA and National Archives Sued Over Scott Pruitt’s Record-Keeping Habits

By Charles S. Clark on February 23, 2018

The unorthodox operating habits of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt have prompted a lawsuit from two nonprofits charging his agency and the National Archives and Records Administration with failing to enforce the Federal Records Act.

Pruitt has been reported by news outlets to use private phones to avoid a full log of his phone conversations. He is also said to have prohibited staffers from taking notes during meetings, and to have steered clear of sending emails in order to avoid creating a written record of his statements.

Details were included in the complaint filed this week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

“It appears EPA Administrator Pruitt has operated in secrecy to avoid creating an adequate record of his and the EPA’s actions,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “We should not have to sue him to force him to follow the law and allow the public a window into what he is doing about the many critical issues before the EPA, but he has given us no other choice.”

PEER Staff Counsel Adam Carlesco said the EPA under Pruitt “has assumed a bunker mentality where paper trails are religiously avoided unless penned in invisible ink. By law, the American public has a right to know the basis for public health and anti-pollution decision-making that affects their lives.”

The suit also named David Ferriero, archivist of the United States, for “failure to properly enforce the law.”

The plaintiffs quoted the Federal Records Act’s provision to ensure the “accurate and complete documentation of the policies and transactions of the federal government.”

The two groups claimed standing to sue as public interest groups which have filed and will continue to file Freedom of Information Act requests for documents relating to EPA deliberations on such major regulations as the Waters of the United States. Pruitt and many Republican lawmakers have sought to roll back that Obama administration clean-water rule as burdensome to states.

“We don’t comment on pending litigation,” an EPA spokesperson told Government Executive on Friday.

James Pritchett, director of public and media communications at the National Archives, said, “The National Archives’ Office of the Chief Records Officer of the United States has inquired formally with EPA leadership about the specific concerns raised by CREW and [we] have requested a response that addresses these concerns. This matter is active and ongoing, and as is the case with all such allegations of improper recordkeeping, we consider each case seriously and expect that the agency complies with existing records management laws and regulations.”

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