Tuesday :: Aug 26, 2003

GAO Final Report on Cheney Energy Task Force Rips Administration for Obstructionism

by Steve

The Washington Post’s Mike Allen, in a Page One story this morning reports on the final report of the GAO in their failed effort to investigate Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force. In the GAO’s final report, they slam the administration for repeated stonewalling and failing to turn over any documents, and being unable to account for the expenses and activities of the task force. Most notably, the GAO found that the White House kept no records of its own spending related to the task force, in essence, for running a black-box operation accountable to no one.

Sounds like other GOP administrations (Watergate, Iran-Contra) doesn’t it?

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.

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."

Nice try Jennifer. How would the GOP have responded to that coverup attempt if if had come from the Clinton White House?

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.

The GAO report gives another lifeline to the foundering candidacy of Joe Lieberman, who jumped on the report’s conclusions immediately.

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.

Time will tell if Lieberman takes advantage of this issue. He already was handed the Texas redistricting fiasco as an issue and failed to turn it into a major headache for Bush. This issue gets to the trust and integrity of Bush and his administration, an issue that Lieberman is well positioned to exploit (if you overlook his whoring for the accounting industry in the 90’s). And coupled with the lies and deceptions used for the Iraq war drive, could be a potent line of attack for someone like Lieberman, if he wasn’t already compromised for his unswerving support for that war. Yet it does give Lieberman a lifeline that he can use for several weeks.

This sounds like a black box operation to me, and a perfect TV commercial for a lack-of-accountability line of attack against them next year.

Remember the GAO report on this matter and how the GOP reacted to Hillary’s health care task force? Remember how Bush ran on restoring responsibility and trust to the White House? This one issue is a great way to undercut Bush on the values plank the GOP plans to run on next year. No one is going to buy Cheney’s “executive privilege” arguments in defending this, since it smacks of a Nixonian imperial presidency and continues to support the contention that these guys don’t want transparency and have something to hide.

Steve :: 8:49 AM :: Comments (9) :: Digg It!