The EPA was destroying computer files way before those hacks at the IRS

In the midst of all the sound and fury surrounding the case of My Dog At my E-mails at the IRS, Sharyl Attkisson has dug up a little noted piece of government history which reminds us that federal agencies have plenty of experience in playing fast and loose with the rules. More than a decade ago, the EPA was found to have pulled a similar stunt, but they were far less oblique about it when caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

According to an Associated Press report, a federal judge has held the EPA in contempt for destroying computer files sought after by a conservative group: Landmark Legal Foundation…

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth had ordered the EPA on Jan. 19, 2001, at the end of the Clinton administration, to preserve all documents relevant to a Freedom of Information Act request by Landmark regarding the federal agency’s contact with outside groups. That same day, EPA Administrator Carol Browner asked a technician to delete her computer files. Browner later testified that she was unaware of the court order and simply wanted to remove some games from her work computer.

According to AP, EPA officials later admitted wiping clean the computer files from Browner and other top staff despite Lamberth’s order.

You can find the original AP report from 2003 here. The details of the story are beyond simply suspicious and quite reminiscent of the current escapades at the IRS. The judge’s initial order was issued on January 19, 2001, the day before the end of the Clinton administration. The EPA was ordered to preserve “all documents that might be relevant to a Freedom of Information Act” which had been filed by Landmark.

So what was the excuse that was given by the technician’s supervisor, aside from getting rid of some computer games?

Browner’s attorney, Robert Trout, said his client had wanted to ensure her work computer was appropriately formatted for her successor in the Bush administration.

Wasn’t that thoughtful of her? Before the new Bush folks showed up to go to work, she just wanted to give them a nice, clean workstation without all those old copies of Castlevania cluttering up the drive. And really, who can keep track of who wanted what preserved and which judge was issuing court orders? It was all so confusing!

We’ve still got more than two years to get ready for the end of the Obama administration. I wonder if a judge shouldn’t preemptively order somebody to go in a few months before the end of the term and just haul all of the computers out with a really big truck.