The Heat Is Online

GAO Stonewalled by Cheney Energy Panel

Corporations shaped Bush energy policy, GAO says

The Washington Post, Aug. 26, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The White House collaborated heavily with corporations in developing President Bush's energy policy but repeatedly refused to give congressional investigators details of the meetings, according to a federal report issued yesterday.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said in the report that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham privately discussed the formulation of Bush's policy "with chief executive officers of petroleum, electricity, nuclear, coal, chemical, and natural gas companies, among others."

An energy task force, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, relied for outside advice primarily on "petroleum, coal, nuclear, natural gas, electricity industry representatives and lobbyists," while seeking limited input from academic specialists, environmentalists, and policy groups, the GAO said.

The task force was one of Bush's highest priorities after his inauguration and was launched on his 10th day in office. None of the group's meetings was open to the public, and participants told GAO investigators they "could not recollect whether official rosters or minutes were kept," the report said.

Yesterday's report was the culmination of a lengthy legal battle between Congress and the Bush administration over the secrecy of government deliberations. The GAO sued in federal court for access to records of Cheney's task force, but dropped the action after a decisive court setback, followed by pressure from Republicans. The GAO said its information was incomplete because of administration intransigence. Although the Energy Department released e-mails, letters, and calendars that reflected heavy input from corporations, the GAO report provided the first systematic look at the extent to which the administration relied on corporations and insisted on secrecy in developing its policy, issued in May 2001.

David M. Walker, comptroller general of the United States and head of the GAO, said in an interview the standoff over the task force documents called into question the existence of "a reasonable degree of transparency and an appropriate degree of accountability in government." Walker said the energy investigation was the first instance since he took office in November 1998 in which the GAO was unable to do its job and produce a report according to generally accepted government auditing standards.

"The Congress and the American people had the right to know the limited amount of information we were seeking," Walker said.

The White House issued no substantive response. Jennifer Millerwise, Cheney's spokeswoman, said the White House hopes "that everyone will now focus as strongly as the administration has on the substance of meeting America's energy needs." Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, who joined the request for the GAO probe when he was chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said voters should know what role energy companies played in writing the policy. "They will never know the full truth because the White House chose to stonewall instead of cooperate with investigators," said Lieberman.

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

Study Confirms 'Stakeholders' Gave Advice to Energy Panel

The New York Times, Aug. 26, 2003

 The General Accounting Office issued its report today on how Vice President Dick Cheney came up with the administration's energy policy two years ago. The accounting agency said it had to piece together scraps of information from other sources because the vice president's panel had been so unresponsive.

The report by the agency, the investigative arm of Congress, plows old ground but for the first time officially confirms news reports and expands on them in saying the panel received advice from "a variety of federal energy stakeholders," with "industry leaders submitting detailed policy recommendations."

The report said a principal figure on the panel, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, had "discussed national energy policy with chief executive officers of petroleum, electricity, nuclear, coal, chemical and natural gas companies, among others."

"Several corporations and associations, including Chevron, the National Mining Association and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association," the report added, "provided the secretary of energy with detailed policy recommendations."

A spokeswoman for Mr. Abraham, Jeanne T. Lopatto, said he had been assigned to examine energy production.

"It should come as a surprise to no one," Ms. Lopatto said, "that the secretary of energy met with energy officials throughout the development of the national energy plan."

The report said the energy task force met with "nonfederal energy stakeholders, principally petroleum, coal, nuclear, natural gas and electricity industry representatives and lobbyists."

But the extent to which they shaped the panel's report could not be determined, the accounting office said.

The investigators said the panel also received information "to a more limited degree" from academic experts, policy organizations, environmental advocacy groups and private citizens.

Mr. Cheney submitted the report to President Bush on May 16, 2001. It included more than 100 proposals to increase energy supplies, recommending additional oil and gas drilling and saying the nation needed to build 1,300 to 1,900 electric plants to meet the projected energy demand over the next 20 years.

Some recommendations have been incorporated in the administration's energy bill, which has taken on new urgency since the nation suffered its biggest blackout this month.

Mr. Cheney's office repeatedly rebuffed the accounting office in the quest for information about how the energy plan was developed. The office maintained that executive deliberations were confidential.

The accounting agency sued in federal court but lost on jurisdictional grounds.

In February, Comptroller General David M. Walker, who oversees the accounting office, declined to appeal that decision, effectively abandoning the effort to obtain information from the administration.

Since then, the accounting office has been piecing together information from other sources to complete the Congressional request that it determine who Mr. Cheney's panel met, how it formulated policy and how much the effort cost.

In releasing this final report, Mr. Walker, who is in the 5th year of his 15-year term, said today in an interview, "This was the first time in the history of the agency that we were absolutely stonewalled and the first time during my tenure that we haven't been able to reach a reasonable accommodation with the subject."

He said this was also the first time that he had to issue a report saying the scope of an investigation had been limited.

"We were not able to obtain all the information we felt we needed to discharge our responsibilities," Mr. Walker said.

Still, he said, he would monitor other suits that seek access to the panel's deliberations and would be prepared to act. But, Mr. Walker noted, the litigation "is likely to go on for years."