Political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are screening public records requests related to administrator Scott Pruitt at an alarming rate, slowing the release of documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), according to internal emails obtained by POLITICO.
Pruitt’s political appointees review documents collected for nearly all FOIA requests. Past administrations gave political aides a similar courtesy, but experts told POLITICO the level of vetting has increased markedly in the Trump administration.
These so-called “awareness reviews” or “senior management reviews” also occurred under the Obama administration when staff thought the requested information would generate news. But now, the EPA chief of Staff Ryan Jackson and other appointees request to review any and all information related to Pruitt.
Emails also showed that political aides reprimand career staff for releasing documents about Pruitt before they’ve screened the information first.
“This does look like the most burdensome review process that I’ve seen documented,” Director of the FOIA Project for George Washington University’s National Security Archive Nate Jones told POLITICO.
The report comes as the EPA faces accusations of carrying out Pruitt’s agenda in secret. Employees reportedly have had to leave cell phones behind when they meet with the EPA administrator. Pruitt has also spent thousands to install a secure, soundproof phone booth in his office.
The EPA declines to provide information about Pruitt’s public appearances beforehand, and would only released detailed schedules when pressed by lawsuits. As a result, FOIA requests have increased due to the agency’s secrecy.
In February, POLITICO reported that Pruitt’s office released FOIA requests at a lower rate than the rest of the EPA.