EPA Honors Fake Employee

by Eliana Johnson
Just when you thought the federal government couldn’t get more ridiculous

Richard Windsor may be the most famous Environmental Protection Agency employee. Oddly, he does not exist. “Windsor” is the e-mail alias that Lisa Jackson, former head of the EPA and now an environmental adviser to Apple, used to correspond with environmental activists and senior Obama-administration officials, among others.

Windsor, we have learned, was also an employee of significant achievement. Documents released by the agency in response to a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that, for three years, the EPA certified Windsor as a “scholar of ethical behavior.” 

The agency also documented the nonexistent Windsor’s completion of training courses in the management of e-mail records, cyber-security awareness, and what appears to be a counter-terror initiative that urges federal employees to report suspicious activity.

The EPA made the certifications public in response to a FOIA request from Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who was tipped off to Jackson’s use of the Windsor account by agency employees while he was researching his 2012 book, The Liberal War on TransparencyHorner says that the EPA probably issued agency-wide training requirements for anybody who wished to maintain an active e-mail address, “never contemplating a false identity or fake employee would be created.” What appears to have happened, then, is that Jackson signed in, using her alias e-mail, to take the online courses for which the certifications were issued. “I’m unclear how grown men and women could think that it’s acceptable to have a nonexistent employee sign in as the test-taker [or to have an] administrator take required certification training in the name of a false identity,” Horner says.

 

Windsor’s certificate showing that “he” received training in how to manage e-mail records carries the signature stamp of John Ellis, the agency’s Records Officer, responsible for ensuring it preserves documents that accurately reflect its activities. Attesting to an employee’s training while knowing that the employee did not exist would be a serious infraction. Why Ellis would issue certification in Windsor’s name, if indeed he knew that Jackson and Ellis were the same person, remains a mystery. According to Horner, the alternative — “Tossing attestations that employees completed required training out like Mardi Gras beads” — would not be much better. The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

The correspondence that came from Jackson’s e-mail alias did not indicate that the e-mails came from “Lisa Jackson,” and we don’t know how many people knew that Jackson and Windsor were the same person. Jackson’s use of the alias is the subject of an investigation by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Lawmakers have called her use of the Windsor account “baffling” and expressed concern that responses to records requests will be incomplete because officials are incapable of connecting the alias account to the real individual.

If agency employees were confused by Jackson’s use of the Windsor alias, they were not alone. E-mails released in May by the Committee on Environment and Public Works show that the CEO of an environmental marketing and consulting firm believed he was corresponding with Jackson’s assistant, Richard Windsor, when he received e-mails from the alias account. On March 4, 2010, Michael Martin, the CEO of Effect Partners, wrote Windsor: “Hi Richard, Thanks for your help in getting this information to Lisa this last week . . . If you are still there, could you please call me at [redacted]?” Jackson, using the Windsor e-mail account, replied: “Michael, Robert Goulding will call you tomorrow.”  Martin responded: “Thanks Richard!” Pointing to the correspondence, ranking committee member David Vitter criticized the agency’s “disregard for transparency” and called the exchange “pretty bizarre.”

Jackson also used the Windsor alias to correspond with Cass Sunstein, the former head of the Obama administration’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. On February 12, 2009, Sunstein wrote Jackson at the Windsor account: “Any chance for lunch one of these days?” adding, “(PS I have your special email from my friend Lisa H. — hope that’s ok!).” The “special e-mail” to which Sunstein refers is Jackson’s Windsor account. She replied, “Of course it’s OK.”

The EPA has said that the practice of assigning a secondary e-mail account to the administrator of the EPA is common, intended to allow the administrator to manage e-mail traffic, because the primary e-mail address is publicly available. In testimony before Congress, however, the EPA said that the private account was used for “internal” agency communication between Jackson, her top deputies, and other administration officials. Her correspondence with individuals outside the federal government, including Martin, indicates that she used the account more widely.

Jackson defended her use of the Windsor alias in an April speech at Princeton University. She said the name Richard Windsor was a combination of her dog Ricky and a township in New Jersey, and she rejected allegations that she used the account to shield her work from disclosure laws. “I get very angry at the way politics is done,” she said, telling the crowd that she wanted to use an account under the name “[email protected],” but that career EPA employees advised her against it because it was too easily identifiable. “I wish that I had stuck with my original inclination and just left it ‘admjackson,’ although I’m sure somebody would have decided that that was too obscure as well, but you take that and then you assign a motive to it.”

Horner, who has showered the EPA with FOIA requests in an attempt to get to the bottom of the Windsor mystery, does not buy it. He argues that the latest batch of documents suggests the corruption goes beyond Jackson “to the core of the agency” because they illustrate that other agency officials deliberately helped her perpetrate the Windsor “hoax” by “certifying and re-certifying him as sufficiently schooled in ethics and e-mail records management training.” Certainly, the certification that she is trained in the management of e-mail records adds a large dose of irony to the puzzle.

— Eliana Johnson is media editor of National Review Online.

Did you like this?