Health officials tried to circumvent public records laws, lawmakers say

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In one of those emails, from June 2021, Greg Folkers, Dr. Fauci’s former chief of staff, was discussing global biosafety practices and referenced an EcoHealth fact sheet. Folkers rendered the group’s name as “Ec~Health,” a misspelling that lawmakers said appeared to be a deliberate attempt to prevent the email from being caught in keyword searches to satisfy FOIA requests related to EcoHealth .

In a separate email the same month, Folkers rendered the last name of Kristian Andersen, a prominent virologist who has investigated the origins of the pandemic and faced scrutiny from lawmakers, as “anders$n.”

Experts on records retention policies said the comments reflected federal government agencies’ low-transparency practices, with officials strategically misspelling words in emails, missing deadlines for responding to records requests and using addresses and -personal emails to circumvent document laws.

And suggestions in NIH emails that the agency’s federal records office was instructing officials on how to subvert the law, they said, were an even more extreme departure from best practices.

“Very rarely have I seen an agency’s FOIA office try to help staff circumvent or avoid their obligations,” said Michael Morisy, CEO of the nonprofit news site MuckRock, which helps archive and keep Track public document requests. If federal records officials were actually helping their NIH colleagues make the emails disappear, Morisy said, “that would be really damaging to trust across the government.”

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