Incompetence or corruption. According to federal judge Royce Lamberth, only those two explanations remain for the EPA’s misconduct over a conservative group’s request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.
As the November 2012 election approached, the Landmark Legal Foundation asked the EPA for documents from top officials relating to the upcoming election. The EPA failed to notify two heads of the agency of the request until after the elections had ended. Feet-dragging ensued. Then the officials’ assistants searched through their bosses’ records with at least “abject carelessness” and “utter indifference” to the law, if not outright deceit. One assistant failed to find any relevant documents, even though hundreds were later uncovered. The other assistant blamed “technical difficulties.” She also claimed to print and then lose other documents, which Judge Lamberth called “about as close to a sworn ‘dog ate my homework’ statement as one can make.” Despite the EPA’s obvious wrongdoing, the agency has remained “offensively unapologetic.”
Botching information requests is nothing new for the EPA. Judge Lamberth said, “The Court is left wondering whether EPA has learned from its mistakes, or if it will merely continue to address FOIA requests in the clumsy manner that has seemingly become its custom.” After chiding the EPA, he issued an admonition. “The Court would implore the Executive Branch to take greater responsibility in ensuring that all EPA FOIA requests–regardless of the political affiliation of the requester–are treated with equal respect and conscientiousness.”
Whether the EPA lied or fumbled, the agency hardly inspires trust. The agency doesn’t flinch at harm to its reputation, though, as the EPA regularly shrugs off citizen’s attempts to call it to account. A sober reminder of what happens when people made of the same mortal clay as the rest of us have too much power.