Archives for 2017

The Unintended Consequences of Mandatory Minimums

This blog post will re-examine the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA) and focus on mandatory minimums. For the purposes of this blog post, “mandatory minimums” refers to “when a person convicted of a crime must be imprisoned for a minimum term, as opposed to leaving the length of punishment up to judges.”[1] “Mandatory minimum sentencing forces judges to deliver fixed sentences to individuals convicted of a crime, regardless of culpability or other mitigating factors.”[2]

Although originally intended for violent offenders, mandatory minimums now impact non-violent offenders as well.[3] Mandatory minimums are often excessive and unjust, but this is not new.  In 1994, Congress created a “safety valve” for those offenders “who most warrant proportionally lower sentences” and “are least culpable”.[4] The safety valve allows federal judges to go below an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum sentence in low-level drug cases (“essentially non-violent, first time offenders.”)[5] If signed into law, the SRCA will go beyond the 1994 safety valve and reduce penalties for those who are non-violent repeat offenders. Further, under SRCA, federal judges will also gain discretion in the cases of low-level offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum, and in sentencing those individuals who possess a firearm illegally, provided that the firearm was not brandished or discharged in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking.[6]

Earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, released a memorandum on sentencing guidelines that is inconsistent with the goals of the 1994 safety valve and the proposed SRCA. These sentencing guidelines instruct federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious readily provable offense”—claiming that this method “affirms…responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency.”[7] In the memorandum, Sessions goes on to say, “the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences”[8]

Despite the influence of the Sessions memo, some of the federal judges (who enforce these mandatory minimums) are speaking out about the grave injustice mandatory minimums are creating. In an interview with Rachel Martin of NPR, Federal Judge Mark Bennett addressed the “consistency claim” suggested by Sessions’ memo by saying “mandatory minimums support unwarranted uniformity by treating everyone alike even though their situations are dramatically different.”[9] In the same interview, Bennett said “mandatory minimums are so incredibly harsh and they’re triggered by such low levels of drugs that they snare at the non-violent, low-level addicts…”[10] According to Judge Bennett, about 80% of the cases involving mandatory minimums are unfair.[11]

One case where Judge Bennett felt the mandatory minimum was too harsh involved 28-year-old Mark Paul Weller. In 2015, Judge Bennett issued a ten-year sentence in response to Mr. Weller’s guilty plea to two counts of distributing methamphetamine (“meth”) in his home town.[12] While Weller did have a brief criminal history, he had made significant efforts to improve his life.[13] Unfortunately, with an unexpected, emotional life event, he turned to drugs and alcohol.[14] This downward spiral led Weller to eventually sell meth.[15] Over the course of eight months, Weller had sold 2.5 kilograms of meth across state lines.[16] Weller had traded meth for his sister’s rent, a used car, gas money, and even an unregistered SKS rifle.[17] The unregistered rifle was still in the car when he was pulled over with 223 grams of meth.[18]

“Weller was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute 500 grams or more of a methamphetamine mixture which contained 50 grams or more of pure methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), and 846, and distributing 50 grams or more of a methamphetamine mixture which contained 5 grams or more of pure methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B).”[19]

Because of Weller’s guilty plea to these charges, his mandatory minimum established by Congress was 10 years. Sadly, his entire sentence involved only the calculation of the following factors: victim impact, criminal history, cost of imprisonment, and the guideline sentence. The answers to this calculation were as follows:  no identifiable victim, minimal criminal history, $2,440.97 per month of imprisonment, and a suggested sentence of 151-188 months.

After sentencing Weller to 120 months, Bennett considered the result of this punishment: “one more nonviolent offender packed into an overcrowded prison; another $300,000 in government money spent.” “I would have given him a year in rehab if I could…How does 10 years make anything better? What good are we doing?” Judge Bennett noted, there were many mitigating factors in Mr. Weller’s case, like neglect and abuse by his mother, addiction, and remorse. Yet, even after consideration of those mitigating factors, he was forced to give Mr. Weller the 10-year sentence. Judge Bennett had absolutely no power to shorten or change the sentence type, i.e.: rehab instead of prison.[20], [21]

If passed, SRCA would scale back police and prosecutor power by restoring the use of judicial discretion.

Katie Parr is a law clerk at Cause of Action Institute.


[1] U.S. Legal,

[2] See Id.

[3] See 4, Erik Luna, Reforming Criminal Justice, Punishment, Incarceration and Release, Mandatory Minimums, 2017, at 126.

[4] Id. at 122.

[5] Id.

[6] Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017, S.1917, 115th Cong. (1st Sess. 2017)

[7]  Memorandum from Jefferson B. Sessions, Att’y Gem., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, to All Federal Prosecutors, Department Charging and Sentencing Policy 1 (May 10, 2017).

[8] Id.

[9] A Federal Judge Says Mandatory Minimums Don’t Fit The Crime, Rachel Martin, NPR (June 1, 2017),

[10] Id.

[11] Mallory Simon, Sara Sidner, The judge who says he’s part of the gravest injustice in America, CNN, updated: (June 3, 2017).

[12] Against His Better Judgment, Eli Saslow, The Washington Post (June 6, 2017)

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Weller v. United States of America, No. CR-14-4059-1-MWB, 2015 U.S. Dist.

[20] See Luna supra, note 12 at 2.

[21] In addition to unfair sentencing, mandatory minimums may also help to maintain job security for prison guards. Some prison guard unions have sponsored and lobbied for harsher sentencing laws. supra note 3 at 131, at 1.


SCOTUS Oral Arguments Rundown: Marinello v. United States

Today the Supreme Court heard argument in Marinello v. United States No. 16-1144.  As we’ve noted before here and at the Federalist Society blog this case considers what level of knowledge a tax payer has to have to be subject to the omnibus felony penalties of 26 U.S.C. § 7212(a) .  Petitioner (Marinello) was represented by Matthew S. Hellman, Esq. and the government by Robert Parker.  From my perch, the Court showed enormous skepticism towards the Government’s position that virtually any act or omission, no matter how slight, could subject one to felony conviction, even though the particular tax code penalties for those actions are misdemeanors.  Justice Sottomayor, an active questioner in this case, seemed open to the view that the Government’s case was overcriminalizing acts that Congress had set out lesser penalties for but she seemed equally hesitant to adopt Petitioner’s solution-there can be no “corrupt” obstruction without knowledge by the Defendant that there is an IRS investigation.  She and Justice Gorsuch teamed up to offer Petitioner another way out, that there must be some affirmative interaction with the IRS.  Mr. Hellman appeared to resist this at first but, upon reflection, and most clearly in rebuttal, stated such a ruling would be acceptable (while continuing to press Petitioner’s view).

The Justices, including Justice Kagan, seemed troubled by the Petitioner’s proposed “fix” of the Government’s overreach on the statute because they could not square it with the text of Section 7212(a).  Even so, Justice Kagan, unprompted, called the statute “ungodly borad.”  Justices Breyer, Alito and Roberts, pressed the Government on the danger of common behaviors, such as using cash, that could become felonies under the Government’s construction.  Justice Breyer was concerned that paying a gardener or snow shoveler in cash could be felonious.  Justice Alito posited that a lower price for services if cash was paid is “known” to be for the purposes of not reporting income, and Justice Kagan agreed.  (This universal interpretation among the Justices is belied by what a small business owner once told me “Cash don’t bounce.”).  Justice Gorsuch took issue with the IRS position that it is a “brooding omnipresence” always collecting taxes and so a taxpayer should know throwing out receipts or keeping sloppy records will, as Justice Alito noted “impede” the IRS in administering the tax code.

Mr. Parker for the Government attempted to convince the Justices that the IRS and the Government were circumspect in the use of the omnibus provision.  Justice Kagan pounced.  Attorney General Sessions has famously issued a directive that the Justice Department charge the highest crime, with the most penalties possible in every case.  Mr. Parker’s attempt to lean on prosecutorial discretion was undermined as he had to admit the Justice Department policy to both Justices Kagan and Roberts who were concerned about it and obviously eager to make sure that policy was in the record and admitted by the Government.  Justice Ginsberg, whose late husband, Martin was a tax Professor at Georgetown, worried that any code violation could be charged as being done corruptly and thus subject to the extra three-year penalty and felony conviction.  Justices Gorsuch posited that the statutory language seemed to point to having to “corruptly” impede something other than just make the IRS’s job harder somewhere someday.  Justice Breyer insisted the Government agree with his definition of the mens rea requirement, which Mr. Parker eventually gamely did.

Upon rebuttal Petitioner made clear his position that any cabining of the statute the Court arrived at that recognized Mr. Marinello’s actions did not fall within the statute would be acceptable to Petitioner.  He and Justice Gorsuch agreed that “a win’s a win.”  Having picked up the signal from the Chief and Justice Kagan, Mr. Hellman finished noting that whether not giving everything to your accountant, using cash or keeping meticulous records would be criminalized rested on prosecutorial discretion that was obviated by the Justice Department’s “charge the highest crime” mandate.

At least from oral argument it appears the Government’s overbroad interpretation of the statute and its play for unrestrained prosecutorial power regarding it, is likely to doom its case despite a well-argued defense of that policy.  It also appears that the bright line rule that Marinello sought (and that we also pressed in our amicus) does not have the full support of the Court.  Nonetheless, today in this case it was a good day to be the Petitioner.

To learn more about this case, watch the short SCOTUSbrief video below, via The Federalist Society

John J. Vecchione is president and CEO at Cause of Action Institute, amicus


CoA Institute Investigates CFPB’s ‘Dumbledore Army’ Using Encrypted Messaging Apps to Thwart Transparency

Washington D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) today filed a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request after media reports identified a number of career employees at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) who use encrypted messaging apps to communicate about ways to resist changes under newly Trump-appointed acting director Mick Mulvaney. The group reportedly refers to itself as Dumbledore’s Army, a nod to a fictional resistance movement in the Harry Potter novels.

CoA Institute Counsel Eric Bolinder: “A number of CFPB employees are reportedly using encrypted apps on their phones to evade transparency laws and conceal their communications from oversight. Under the Federal Records Act, the CFPB has a legal obligation to preserve all records made by employees working on official government business. Congress and the public have a right to know if federal employees are intentionally evading transparency in order to resist changes under CFPB’s new leadership.”

A December 5, 2017 article by the New York Times reported that CFPB employees are communicating among themselves using encrypted messaging applications:

An atmosphere of intense anxiety has taken hold, several employees said. In some cases, conversations between staff that used to take place by phone or text now happen almost exclusively in person or through encrypted messaging apps.

It is unknown whether these employees discuss work-related issues using their CFPB-issued or personal devices. Under the Federal Records Act, the CFPB has a legal obligation to preserve records evidencing employees working on government business, no matter the medium of their communication.

CoA Institute’s FOIA seeks all records reflecting the number of CFPB devices on which encrypted messaging applications were installed, internal policy guidelines on the use of such apps, as well as the communications themselves and efforts by CFPB to recover and archive these messages. The FOIA also specifically requests all communications that contain the words “Dumbledore,” “Dumbledore’s Army,” “Snape,” “Voldemort,” and “He-who-shall-not-be-named,” among other records.

The full FOIA can be found here.

For information regarding this press release, please contact Zachary Kurz, Director of Communications at CoA Institute:

Inaccessible Criminal Codes and Their Domino Effects

On October 4, 2017, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 (“SRCA”) was reintroduced in the Senate with bipartisan support. A version of the bill was first introduced in the Senate in October of 2015, but never received a vote. If signed into law, SRCA would reduce and restrict enhanced penalties for non-violent repeat drug offenders and eliminate the so-called “three-strike” mandatory life provision. SRCA also would apply to pending cases, “where the offense was committed before the date of enactment of this Act,” if a sentence has not been imposed as of the date of enactment,[1] and, would apply to past cases where, before the date of enactment, the defendant “was convicted of an offense for which the penalty is amended…and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment for the offense.”[2] Imprisonment terms may be reduced only if, “the defendant has not been convicted of any serious violent felony, and the sentencing court, after considering the nature and seriousness of the danger to any person, the community, or any crime victims, and the post sentencing conduct of the defendant, finds a reduction is consistent with SRCA and its amendments.”[3] This bill would also provide judicial discretion in the sentencing of certain low-level offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum.[4]

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is just the beginning of a much-needed conversation regarding reform of the criminal justice system. This post, the first in a series of posts on criminal justice reform, will focus on overcriminalization. For the purposes of this blog post, “overcriminalization,” means “the act of imposing unbalanced penalties with no relation to the gravity of the offense committed or the culpability of the wrong doer. It is the imposition of excessive punishment or sentences without adequate justification.”[5]

Over the past forty years, America has seen a dramatic increase in duplicative federal criminal laws.[6] While many have sought to enumerate federal crimes, the exact count remains unknown.[7] One estimate suggests that there are more than 4,000 federal criminal statutes.[8] Many of these statutes, include mandatory minimums.[9] With the use of mandatory minimums on the rise, the federal prison population has increased tenfold and the average federal sentence more than doubled since 1980.[10] The effects of overcriminalization do not end with the criminal code and excessive mandatory minimums; as many as 300,000 regulatory offenses now have criminal penalties that include prison time.[11]

If SRCA is signed into law, then the Attorney General will be required to submit a comprehensive list of “all criminal statutory offenses” to Congress, within one year.[12] Such a list will be the first of many tools available to begin reining in the ever-expanding criminal code and regulatory offenses.

Overcriminalization does not just affect those who end up behind bars, but also those who are unreasonably prosecuted. A few examples:

  • Bobby Unser, retired racecar driver was prosecuted by federal authorities for driving his snowmobile on protected federal land. Unser and a friend got lost during a snowstorm and were seeking shelter or assistance.[13]
  • In a Ft. Lauderdale park, members of a Christian outreach group were arrested and prosecuted for feeding the homeless. Local rules restricted food sharing.[14]
  • Christian Stanfield, who suffers from ADHD and was a victim of extreme bullying at South Fayette High School, PA, was charged with disorderly conduct under a wiretapping statute, because he recorded the abuse and went to school officials. Charges were eventually dropped.[15]

As these examples show, current application of criminal statutes reaches even the most innocent and sympathetic of “offenders.” Surely the statutes that produced these prosecutions were not intended to criminalize self-protection or charitable acts, and yet they did.[16],[17]

Overcriminalization needs to be stopped and reversed. Legislation like the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a good first step.

Katie Parr is law clerk at Cause of Action Institute.

[1] Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017, S.1917, 115th Cong. (1st Sess. 2017)

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] U.S. Legal,

[6] Cato Institute, Cato Handbook for Policymakers, Chapter 17, Overcriminalization, 8th ed. 2017.

[7] See Ilya Shapiro, Not Everything Can Be a Federal Crime, Cato Institute (March 8, 2012),

[8] Overcriminalization, Right on Crime,

[9] FAMM, What are Mandatory Minimums?,

[10] See 4, Erik Luna, Reforming Criminal Justice, Punishment, Incarceration and Release, Mandatory Minimums, 2017, at 137.

[11] Supra note 6 at 1.

[12] Supra note 1, at 1.

[13] Cato, supra note 4 at 1.

[14] Id.

[15] Sasha Goldstein, Criminal charge dropped against Pennsylvania bullying victim with learning disability who recorded his abusers, New York Daily News (April 14, 2014),

[16] Luna, supra note 5 at 133.

[17] With overcriminalization on the rise, the potential for undercriminalization may also rise. As Douglas Husak put it, “some conduct that should not incur penal liability will be subject to it, and some conduct that should incur penal liability will not be subject to it.” 1, Douglas Husak, Reforming Criminal Justice, Introduction and Criminalization, Overcriminalization, 2017, at 28.

DC courts are becoming the place to muzzle scientists (Washington Examiner)

DC courts are becoming the place to muzzle scientists

by John McGlothlin | Nov 22, 2017, 12:01 AM

Science is mostly known for groundbreaking discoveries, quirky characters, and complicated theories. But there is another tradition which has long been part of the field — scientists being incredibly mean to each other.

Few professions are as inherently competitive as science, where one researcher can completely invalidate the work of another. The resulting rivalries are fierce and emotions often run high. One botanist named foul-smelling weeds after a rival who called his work “loathsome harlotry.” Another storied dispute gave rise to the epithet “disgusting old fart neoliberal hypocrite.”

These arguments are usually settled with a witty reply or more research, but a misguided decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals is now prompting scientists to file lawsuits instead. If not corrected, this mistake will pose a serious threat to scientific inquiry, free speech, and the status of the nation’s capital as a place where open debate is protected.

Read the full article at The Washington Examiner

CoA Institute Files Second Lawsuit for Records Concerning EPA Employees’ Use of Encrypted Messaging App

Washington, D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) today filed a second lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) for the failure to disclose records about an ongoing investigation into agency employees’ use of an encrypted messaging application, called “Signal.”  The records at issue—which were the subject of two Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests (here and here)—include a special report, requested by the EPA Office of Inspector General and generated by an agency contractor, which identifies the mobile applications running on most EPA-furnished devices, as well as documents concerning the agency’s continuing efforts to address allegations of wrongdoing, including the avoidance of federal records management laws.

CoA Institute Counsel Ryan Mulvey: “We now know that a small group of career EPA employees used Signal to avoid transparency.  These employees’ work-related communications—including their messages concerning any proposed efforts to thwart the new administration’s political appointees from carrying out the president’s policy agenda—should have been preserved for disclosure to the public.  Records released by the EPA, however, prove that this preservation never took place.  Now, the EPA has effectively refused to disclose any additional documents that could show how pervasive the use of Signal was and how seriously the agency has tried to rectify deficiencies in meeting its record preservation obligations.”

CoA Institute opened its investigation into the use of Signal at the beginning of the year, following media reports that suggested a select number of career officials were using the application to plan methods for obstructing the Trump administration’s incoming political leadership.  CoA Institute’s investigation was widely discussed in the press, along with Congress’s request for the EPA’s watchdog to independently investigate the matter.

Just hours after CoA Institute filed its first FOIA lawsuit, on March 23, 2017, the EPA’s Office of General Counsel acknowledged that there was, indeed, an “open law enforcement” investigation and, as a result, responsive records would have to be redacted.  The EPA ultimately reconsidered its position and, notwithstanding its active investigation, agreed to release relevant records.  Those records prompted the follow-up FOIA requests at issue in today’s lawsuit.

More information on CoA Institute’s investigation can be found here.

The full complaint can be found here.

For information regarding this press release, please contact Zachary Kurz, Director of Communications at CoA Institute:

Investigation Update: EPA Employees’ Use of an Encrypted Messaging App to Thwart Transparency and Fight the White House

Shortly after President Trump took office, Politico reported that a small group of career employees at the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”)—“numbering less than a dozen”—were using an encrypted messaging application, called “Signal,” to discuss ways in which to prevent incoming political appointees from implementing the Trump Administration’s policy agenda, which may violate the Federal Records Act.  These employees sought to form a sort of “opposition network” to combat any shift in the EPA’s mission and to preserve the “integrity” of “objfedective” scientific data collected for years by the agency.

The use of Signal at the EPA mirrored reports about the use of electronic messaging platforms at other agencies, including the State Department and the Department of Labor.  But the EPA seemed to present a particularly potent site for the fermentation of political opposition among the civil service bureaucracy.  As reported by Reuters, for example, “[o]ver 400 former EPA staff members” wrote an open letter to the U.S. Senate, asking that former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination as Administrator be rejected, and employees in the EPA’s Chicago regional office held a joint protest against Pruitt with the Sierra Club.  Such resistance, as our investigative findings suggested, has yet to dissipate.

* * *

Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) opened its investigation into the use of Signal following Politico’s report.  We were concerned that Signal might have been used to conceal internal agency communications from oversight and that the EPA had failed to meet its legal obligations under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) and the Federal Records Act to preserve records of official government business created or obtained on Signal.  The EPA’s less-than-sterling reputation for managing electronic records likely inspired the House of Representatives to seek similar clarification from the EPA Inspector General on the Signal scandal.

In our view, to the extent intra-agency Signal correspondence pertained to employees’ plans, in their official capacities, to fight the White House on policy issues, those records were governed by the FOIA and the Federal Records Act, even if created or received on private devices.  Applicable guidance from the National Archives and Records Administration (“NARA”) on electronic records states as much.  Although some have argued that Signal could have been used in the employees’ personal capacity or “off the record,” such claims rest on “murky legal ground.”  At least to the extent employees used Signal on EPA devices, there should have been some mechanism in place to preserve messages until agency authorities could determine whether federal records laws applied.  Such a mechanism was particularly important given the difficulty of recovering encrypted messages after deletion.

* * *

To date, CoA Institute’s investigation has unearthed previously undisclosed information about the Signal scandal and the EPA’s efforts to address allegations of legal wrongdoing.  In response to our first FOIA lawsuit, the EPA acknowledged that there was an “open law enforcement” investigation and, therefore, many of the records at issue would be withheld in full.  The EPA eventually changed its position on this matter and released a number of partially-redacted records.  Those records corroborate the alarming facts reported in the media and reveal much more.

For example, the EPA Office of Inspector General apparently opened its official investigation into the use of Signal only after reading the Washington Times report on CoA Institute’s FOIA efforts.  As Assistant Inspector General Patrick Sullivan noted:

Figure 1: February 3, 2017 E-mail from Patrick Sullivan to Arthur Elkins et al.

An unidentified special agent then explained how an official “hotline complaint” would be initiated, but only after consulting with IT staff.

Figure 2: February 3, 2017 E-mail from Unidentified Special Agent

The EPA’s administrative offices appear to have been alerted to the Signal scandal before the Inspector General, and only because of the efforts of President Trump’s political appointees.  David Schnare almost immediately highlighted the need for a high-level response.

Figure 3: February 2, 2017 E-mail from David Schnare

Mr. Schnare subsequently resigned from the EPA in March 2017, citing difficulties with “antagonistic” career staff opposed to President Trump’s policy agenda.

The next day, again in response to the Washington Times, another Trump-appointed advisor, former State Senator Donald Benton, described the media reports as “disturbing if true,” and wondered whether the EPA could detect whether Signal had been improperly downloaded on any devices. (Senator Benton also left the EPA following alleged clashes with Administrator Pruitt.)

Figure 4: February 3, 2017 E-mail from Donald Benton

Steven Fine, the EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Environmental Information and Acting Chief Information Officer, assured Senator Benton that the agency could not detect “app downloads,” but could, in fact, scan devices for already-installed programs.

Figure 5: February 3, 2017 E-mail from Steven Fine

The EPA’s ability to “scan” for the installation of Signal was also revealed during summary judgment briefing against Judicial Watch in unrelated FOIA litigation.  A declarant for the EPA described a software tool known as “Mobile Device Management” or “MDM,” which can compile a master report that identifies the applications running on most EPA-furnished equipment.  Indeed, Mr. Fine likely wrote to Senator Benton with knowledge of the Inspector General’s pending request for “assistance in identifying whether certain mobile apps, including Signal, had been downloaded” to EPA devices.

Figure 6: February 3, 2017 E-mail from Patrick Sullivan

* * *

Figure 7: February 3, 2017 E-mail from Rena Key

Interestingly, an unidentified special agent in the Office of the Inspector General recognized the limitations in retrieving Signal messages, regardless of the agency’s ability to use MDM to identify the relevant devices on which the application was installed.

Figure 8: February 3, 2017 E-mail from Unidentified Special Agent

An EPA contractor eventually generated the requested report in the MDM devices and transmitted it to the Office of Environmental Information.  CoA Institute has a pending FOIA request for a copy of the MDM report.

Records released to CoA Institute also raise or confirm other concerning facts:

  • Based on a list of approved “Terms of Service” agreements, EPA employees never were, and still are not, authorized to download and use Signal. Although various social medial tools are approved for use, Signal is not one of them.
  • Internal agency guidance leaves individual employees with total discretion in determining whether text or instant messages need to be forwarded to an official e-mail address and agency recordkeeping system. Although the guidance highlights the differences between “substantive (or non-transitory)” records and those that need not be retained, there is no clear system of oversight to prevent the unauthorized deletion of electronic records.
  • On February 22, 2017, NARA wrote to the EPA to request an update on the records management issues involved in the Signal scandal. The EPA responded a month later, explaining that its investigation was still ongoing and a final report would be forthcoming.  The agency referred to its existing list of approved “Terms of Service” agreements, as well as its efforts to remind employees of their individual responsibility to preserve certain records.  No specific mention was made of the use of Signal.

As additional information becomes available, we will provide further analysis on the EPA’s investigation into the unauthorized use of Signal.

Selected records from CoA Institute’s FOIA production, excepts of which have been used above, can be accessed here.

Ryan P. Mulvey is Counsel at Cause of Action Institute.