General Accounting Office report says vice president's
unwillingness to cooperate stymied efforts to learn details on the
drafting of the energy plan in 2001.
By Richard Simon
Times Staff Writer
7:47 PM PDT, August 25, 2003
WASHINGTON — After more than two years and an unprecedented lawsuit,
congressional investigators declared Monday that they were unable to
determine how much influence industry groups wielded in shaping the
Bush administration's energy policy.
The General Accounting Office said in a long-awaited report that Vice
President Dick Cheney's unwillingness to cooperate stymied efforts to
find out which outside groups met privately with administration
officials and what they discussed during the drafting of the energy
plan in 2001. Cheney headed the task force, a number of whose
recommendations were included in energy legislation now before
Congress. The legislation has gained urgency following this month's
Northeast power blackout.
The GAO report brought to an end a standoff between the investigative
arm of Congress and the White House that represented the Bush
administration's determination, from early on, to avoid the relentless
congressional inquiries that dogged the Clinton administration.
The dispute led the GAO in February 2002 to file its first lawsuit ever
against the executive branch, seeking disclosure of details about the
energy task force's meetings. But the GAO lost that case in federal
court in December and decided against an appeal. By then, both houses
of Congress had come under Republican control, weakening the hand of
the energy plan's Democratic critics in their efforts to obtain the
Comptroller Gen. David M. Walker, who heads the nonpartisan GAO,
acknowledged Monday that the report would likely end the matter, as far
as the watchdog agency is concerned.
"This is the first and only time that we have not been able to work out
a reasoned and reasonable accommodation to get information that we need
to do our job," Walker said in an interview. "We hope and expect that
this is an isolated instance, but only time will tell."
Walker also defended his efforts to get the information. "National
energy policy is a very important issue," he said. "It's not just what
you're proposing but how you propose it. Process does matter."
The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, a conservative group, continue to
press a lawsuit seeking to force the administration to reveal details
of the private meetings.
Congressional Democrats pounced on the GAO report as further evidence
of a Bush administration penchant for secrecy.
"The Bush administration is obsessed with secrecy," said Rep. Henry A.
Waxman (D-Los Angeles). "The result is not just bad decisions on
energy, but a rejection of the principles of open government and public
Waxman, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was
among the Democrats who sought the information, contending that it
would show the administration's energy plan to be heavily influenced by
the coal, oil, gas and nuclear power industries.
The White House argued that revealing details of the meetings would
discourage candid discussions inside the executive branch.
Administration officials also have insisted that the energy plan is
"Now that the courts have dismissed the GAO lawsuit, and the GAO has
issued its final report, we hope that everyone will focus on meeting
America's energy needs," Cheney spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise said
In its 26-page report, the GAO "pieced together" some information about
the task force's dealings from thousands of pages of records that the
Energy Department and other agencies — but not the vice president's
office — were ordered to release last year under the Freedom of
Those documents showed that industry groups and companies — including
the American Petroleum Institute, the Nuclear Energy Institute and
ChevronTexaco Corp. — provided substantial input in drafting the
president's energy plan.
"The extent to which [the ideas of outside groups] were solicited,
influenced policy deliberations or were incorporated into the final
report is not something we can determine based on the limited
information at our disposal," the GAO report concluded.
The GAO said it also was unable to determine how much the task force's
operations cost taxpayers. Cheney's office provided the agency with 77
pages of information, but the GAO complained that many pages contained
information "of little or no usefulness."
The House and the Senate have passed energy bills, and negotiations on
a compromise measure are expected to pick up speed after Labor Day.
Although energy legislation died last year when the GOP-controlled
House and the Democratic-led Senate deadlocked, both chambers this year
are dominated by Republicans eager to deliver on one of Bush's domestic
priorities and respond to the Northeast blackout as well as to recent
increases in gas prices.