|NMU||WASHINGTON, D.C.||Freedom of Information||Jul 20, 2001|
Cheney pressed to disclose details from energy policy meeting
- At the request of some Democratic congressmen, GAO has asked the Vice President, as head of a task force on energy policy, to disclose task force records which may show potential influence from industry officials.
The General Accounting Office demanded July 18 that Vice President Dick Cheney hand over records detailing the development of the Bush administration’s controversial energy policy, which was drawn up in closed meetings by a task force headed by Cheney.
The GAO requested the information through its own authorizing legislation, not the Freedom of Information Act or the Federal Advisory Commission Act. Other groups are seeking the records under FOI Act and FACA.
The GAO move, requested by two Democratic lawmakers, could set up a dramatic showdown between the executive and legislative branches over the records.
Cheney’s energy task force met in secret for months while developing the policy blueprint, which was released May 17. The task force, which included cabinet members and other government officials, met with various interests before issuing the report, but environmentalists alleged industry had too much influence on the panel.
The GAO — the investigative arm of Congress — had previously requested records from the task force, but was turned away. In June, Cheney’s counsel told the GAO that it did not have jurisdiction over the task force because the panel served an advisory function, which is protected by the Constitution. The vice president argued the GAO action required a majority vote of a committee or a request by a committee chairman.
The GAO demand letter requires the vice president to hand over the information within 20 days. If Cheney does not provide the records, the GAO could then pursue the case in federal court. The demand letter, one of 32 issued since 1980, is the first sent to a vice president. The letter requested “full and complete access . . . to records relating to development of the administration’s national energy policy.”
A demand letter for information is the last step taken by the GAO before the agency goes to court to obtain records. The letter was sent after Cheney repeatedly refused to provide names of people who met with the task force.
Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) requested the records, saying they wanted to know whether energy industry officials who had been large donors to the Bush campaign were given special access to the task force.
Mary Matalin, a Cheney aide, told The New York Times that there was no need to release additional information.
“If they want to know what happened in the meetings, look at what it spawned in legislation that is on the Hill,” Matalin said.
Judicial Watch sued Cheney July 16 over the same records, alleging the vice president violated the Freedom of Information Act and the Federal Advisory Commission Act, which respectively mandate that documents and task force meetings be open to the public.
The lawsuit alleges that the energy task force “must file a charter, must allow input from interested persons, must comply with the FOI Act and the Government in the Sunshine Act, must publish notice of its meetings in the Federal Register, and must have a board that is fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented.”
(Judicial Watch v. National Energy Policy Development Group: Attorney: Larry Klayman, Washington, D.C.) — CM
© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press