Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has intentionally delayed the production of agency documents in response to open records requests about his tenure, former aides to Pruitt have told congressional investigators.
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In a letter to Pruitt obtained by ABC News, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said several of Pruitt’s former staffers have testified their policy was to prioritize document requests for EPA records made during the Obama administration – before addressing any from during Pruitt's tenure.
That policy, Cummings said, appears to violate EPA rules and Justice Department records processing guidelines, which state that the agency should process requests on multiple tracks based on the complexity of the production, and in order to fulfill simple requests more quickly. EPA rules also require the agency to give record-seekers the opportunity to refine their requests if placed on the slower, time-intensive tracks.
"Under your tenure, EPA’s front office is now responding more slowly, withholding more information, and rejecting more requests, according to EPA’s own data and independent sources," Cummings wrote.
An EPA spokesperson said the agency would respond to Cummings's request.
“Since the beginning of this administration, EPA has seen a dramatic increase in FOIA requests as compared to the last administration, including a nearly 200% increase in the Administrator’s office alone, and the Agency is working to release them in a timely manner. When Administrator Pruitt arrived at EPA he inherited a backlog of FOIA requests, some dating back to 2008, and over the last year and a half, EPA has worked tirelessly to clear this backlog," EPA spokesperson Kelsi Daniells said in a statement.
Kevin Chmielewski, Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff, told the House Oversight Committee that Pruitt “directed” staff not to respond to FOIA requests about his tenure “until requests for the Obama Administration had been completed.”
Millan Hupp, Pruitt’s former director of scheduling and advance, confirmed Pruitt’s directions regarding records requests, Cummings said in his letter.
The letter also indicated the agency had been allowing political appointees – instead of career employees -- to review responses to records requests before releasing anything, according to internal documents produced in a lawsuit from the National Resources Defense Council.
The testimony from Pruitt’s staff about the administrator’s records processing guidance appears to be a departure from the agency’s handling of records under the previous administration. A 2015 report from the EPA inspector general did not find any evidence of “political interference” under the previous leadership.
Pruitt’s actions and spending at EPA are the subject of more than a dozen congressional and federal investigations. President Trump has continued to expressed support for his embattled EPA administrator, recently telling reporters that Pruitt is “doing a great job.”