Washington — This week, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg issued an order allowing a Federal Records Act (FRA) lawsuit brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) to proceed. CREW and PEER filed the suit earlier this year alleging that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt violated federal records laws by systematically failing to create and maintain documents of essential EPA activities.
“This week’s ruling is a major victory in the fight to hold Scott Pruitt and the EPA accountable for their consistent and outrageous attempts to operate in secrecy,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “For more than a year, Pruitt directed EPA officials to take extraordinary measures to avoid creating official records on major policy initiatives, and we are glad our case alleging serious FRA violations will be allowed to go forward. We look forward to working with PEER to prove our case and will continue to advocate for the American people to be fully informed about critical decision-making at the EPA.”
The FRA is a collection of statutes that governs the creation, management and disposal of federal records to ensure Americans have a detailed record of their government’s actions. Among other things, the FRA ensures the “[a]ccurate and complete documentation of the policies and transactions of the Federal Government.”
“These open government laws exist for a reason – to allow the American people to keep an eye on their government,” stated PEER staff counsel Adam Carlesco. “When our public servants intentionally avoid creating written records as a means of implementing harmful and scientifically indefensible policy positions, they are doing a disservice to all of us. Judge Boasberg’s decision marks an historic opportunity for the federal judiciary to hold one of the worst-behaved agency directors accountable for his attempts to circumvent transparency laws that are vital to our bureaucracy.”
During his time as Administrator, Pruitt and other EPA political appointees reportedly told EPA staff not to create a written record about substantive matters, including major changes to a water quality rule. Pruitt also reportedly prohibited staff from bringing cellular phones into meetings and directed staff not to take notes to avoid the creation of any record of his questions and directions, and he used phones other than his own to deal with important EPA-related matters so the calls would not show up in his call logs.