Dick Cheney- Corporate Criminal

GAO Cites Corporate Shaping of Energy Plan

By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 26, 2003; Page A01

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 Cheney, relied for outside advice primarily on "petroleum, coal, nuclear, natural gas, electricity industry representatives and lobbyists," while seeking limited input from academic experts, 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.

Among the previously disclosed meetings were private sessions for Kenneth L. Lay, then the chairman of Enron Corp., the Texas energy trading company that collapsed in the nation's largest accounting scandal. Lay was given a 30-minute meeting with Cheney and a conference with a top aide for the task force.

David M. Walker, comptroller general of the United States and head of the GAO, said in an interview that 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."

David S. Addington, the vice president's counsel, said in a letter to Congress last year that the task force, formally the National Energy Policy Development Group, met with "a broad representation of people potentially affected by the group's work," including state and local regulators, labor unions and wildlife advocates.

After this month's blackouts crippled much of the Northeast and Midwest, GOP congressional leaders vowed to move swiftly after Labor Day on energy legislation that is based on Bush's policy and includes plans for shoring up the nation's electricity grid. The legislation has been stalled for more than two years; Democrats say that is because of Bush's insistence on tax breaks and other incentives for energy production, including oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The report provides Democrats with ammunition for their contention that Bush's energy policy is filled with favors for corporate interests. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), 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, a presidential candidate.

The report said several corporations and associations, including Chevron Corp. (now part of ChevronTexaco Corp.) and the National Mining Association, gave detailed energy policy recommendations.

ChevronTexaco declined to comment.

Carol Raulston, a senior vice president of the National Mining Association, said the recommendations were given to both parties and published on the group's Web site. She said the most important one was funding for research into clean-coal technology. Cheney's report adopted that plan.

The task force was "a centralized, top-down" process that involved several hundred federal employees but relied little on nonpolitical expertise in the government, the GAO report said. It said the Interior Department, which manages many of the federal lands where White House officials want to increase oil and gas exploration, "was not assigned a lead role in writing any of the [task force] report chapters."

The report documents $861,250 in administration spending on the policy. But that amount does not include spending by the White House, where the task force recommendations were produced and most of the meetings were held.

Of the 77 pages Cheney's office provided the GAO, two-thirds contained no cost information, and the remaining third included "miscellaneous information of little or no usefulness," the report said.

The vice president's office "stated that it would not provide any additional information," the investigators wrote. An unusually caustic GAO news release complained of the office's "persistent denial of access" to task force records.

In December, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates ruled that the GAO had no legal standing to sue the vice president for refusing to turn over the documents. That vindicated the argument of administration lawyers that such suits could encroach on the ability of the president and vice president to receive unvarnished advice. The GAO in February dropped its pursuit of the case.

Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club are pursuing a separate legal battle for the energy records. A federal appeals court panel ruled last month that the groups could be entitled to documents from Cheney's staff. The Justice Department has asked the full appeals court to review the ruling.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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