Monday, August 25, 2003

Vice President Dick Cheney’s lack of cooperation hindered the General Accounting Office from conducting a thorough investigation of how the Bush administration crafted its proposed energy policy, according to an agency report released yesterday.

“The office of the vice president’s persistent denial of access to certain [National Energy Policy Development Group] records, which led us to take the unprecedented step of filing suit to enforce our access rights against a federal official, precluded GAO from fully achieving our objectives and substantially limited our analysis,” said David M. Walker, U.S. comptroller general and head of the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.

The GAO’s investigation of the NEPDG task force came at the request of Reps. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, and Henry Waxman, California Democrat. Both lawmakers were concerned about the “conduct and composition” of the task force and what they considered its efforts to shield “its membership and deliberations from public scrutiny.”

The Bush administration refused to release information on the group, saying that to do so would hamper its future decision-making processes.

President Bush placed Mr. Cheney in charge of the task force to confront the nation’s looming energy crisis and decrease the country’s dependence on foreign oil. The 14-member panel concluded the problem would have to be addressed using a mix of nuclear power, coal-burning refineries and natural gas extracted from U.S. sources, including the controversial Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The GAO report stated that the NEPDG was the product of a “centralized, top-down, short-term and labor-intensive process.” The GAO said it could not determine the extent that information from petroleum, coal, nuclear, natural gas and electricity industry representatives influenced policy decisions because of the limited information made available.

“The Bush administration is obsessed with secrecy. This is profoundly unhealthy to our democracy,” Mr. Waxman said. “The result is not just bad decisions on energy, but a rejection of the principles of open government and public accountability.”

The NEPDG released its report in May 2001, in which it called for expanded gas and oil exploration, construction of nuclear power plants, and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The GAO report released yesterday detailed the task force’s meetings between Jan. 29 and May 16, 2001, when it presented its final report to Mr. Bush. The GAO report said senior administration officials met with a variety of industry representatives.

Mr. Cheney’s office produced 77 pages of information for investigators, two-thirds of which contained no cost information. The office of the vice president then said it would not provide any additional information, the GAO said.

The dispute prompted Mr. Walker to file a federal lawsuit to force Mr. Cheney and the task force to release information on its process and costs in developing the energy plan.

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