The president is moving quickly to get a team in place for his second term. Some of his appointments, like Jack Lew as secretary of the treasury, seem sound enough. Others, like sending former Nebraska Republican senator Chuck Hagel to the Pentagon, are questionable at best.
Time will tell whether Obama has picked the right people for the right jobs. As a general rule, the president—any president—should be given a great degree of latitude in making cabinet appointments. He is entitled to have the advisers and administrators around them unless the U.S. Senate determines, for whatever reason, that they are manifestly unqualified for the job and withholds its consent.
Generally, that is. There are times, however, when important principles are at stake that a nominee should be blocked until Congress and the American people get some answers about what has been going on inside a particular agency. Such is the case with Gina McCarthy, whom the president has picked to be the next administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
McCarthy, a career environmentalist, has been called a "seasoned regulator" and has worked for Democrats and Republicans alike. As the deputy administrator for the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, which is charged with limiting airborne pollutants and radiation exposure, she has been intimately involved in a number of controversial issues including Obama's war on coal, the regulation of so-called greenhouse gases, and the effort to increase fuel economy standards for automobiles.
These are policy questions about which there is broad disagreement because they have a profound impact on the U.S. economy. The fact that some members of the Senate may hold different views than McCarthy and the president is not, alone, enough to recommend that her nomination be stopped.
What is enough, however, is the continuing scandal at the EPA involving Obama's first administrator, Lisa Jackson, and her use of a false identity for official E-mail communications. As first uncovered by the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Christopher Horner, Jackson appears to have had agency personnel create a fictitious EPA employee by the name of "Richard Windsor" whose E-mail address she appropriated in order to conduct official business in secret.
Thus far the agency has been less than forthcoming about the Richard Windsor E-mails. What has been released has been heavily redacted. Other than one whistleblower it seems that no one who knows anything about the emails is talking.
This is unacceptable. It is not too much of a reach to believe that the false identity was created so that industry stakeholders and those involved in congressional oversight could not have access under the Freedom of Information Act to all the information about what the EPA was doing or wanted to do that they are entitled under the Freedom of Information Act to have. It was an effort to deceive, to misdirect, and to hide elements of the policymaking process that, by law, Congress has determined should be open to public scrutiny.
As a senior agency official, Ms. McCarthy may even have had E-mail correspondence with "Richard Windsor," which is something senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee should ask during her confirmation hearing. If she did, and did not report the matter to the EPA's inspector general, then she should not be confirmed. But it doesn't stop there.
Only until the EPA makes a clean breast of the "Richard Windsor" affair, only when all the E-mails are out there, and Congress and the American people have had time to go through them should the Senate even think about moving forward with McCarthy's confirmation. Honesty and transparency first need to come first. A new administrator comes second. The public's trust and confidence depends on it.