Judge Knocks GAO Out of Cheney Task Force Lawsuit

WASHINGTON, DC, December 9, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, was refused legal standing by a federal judge today in its attempt to get records related to Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force. Saying it has every legal right to see these records, the GAO is considering an appeal of the decision.

Bates

Federal District Judge John Bates
(Photo courtesy DC District Court)
Judge John Bates, appointed to the U.S. District Court in December 2001 by President George W. Bush, ruled in Walker v Cheney that the GAO has no standing in the case because it did not suffer any direct harm as a result of the withholding of the documents.

Comptroller General of the United States David Walker, who heads the GAO, said the agency might appeal the ruling. “We are very disappointed with the judge’s decision," Walker said.

The agency is in the process of reviewing and analyzing the bases and implications of Judge Bates' ruling. Walker said, "We will consider whether or not to appeal after we have completed this review and consulted with Congressional leadership on a bi-partisan basis."

The GAO has the right and duty to examine the records of meetings with energy stakeholders at the time when the Cheney Task Force was formulating the National Energy Policy, the investigative agency maintains.

Walker

Comptroller General of the United States David Walker (Photo courtesy GAO)
GAO's legislation "clearly authorizes it to perform a basic factual review of the process the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG) used to develop the President's national energy strategy," the GAO said today in a statement.

"Section 712(1), Title 31, U.S.C., authorizes GAO to investigate "all matters related to the receipt, disbursement, and use of public money," and there is no doubt that public money was used to fund the activities of the NEPDG," the GAO stated.

Three other lawsuits are pending, including two by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), to force the White House to turn over the information. One NRDC lawsuit awaits a decision by Judge Paul Friedman which is expected any day.

NRDC sued the Energy Department under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for records relating to the energy task force, including minutes of meetings that occurred.

Although the Energy Department and other federal agencies have released some information about which cabinet officials met with regarding energy policy, the NRDC said today, the White House has refused to provide similar information.

NRDC has argued that the records of Andrew Lundquist, the task force executive director, and other key task force staff, all of whom were Energy Department employees, must be disclosed under FOIA.

Cheney

Vice President Dick Cheney (Photo courtesy DOD)
"Judge Bates' decision to shield the activities of Vice President Cheney's secretive energy task force seems to be more about politics than the law," said NRDC attorney Sharon Buccino.

The NRDC has also filed a freedom of information case against the Department of Interior (DOI) for records related to the formation and the implementation of the energy task force recommendations. "DOI is already moving forward to expedite energy development on public lands across the West, yet refuses to provide basic information about the decisions the agency is making and who is influencing them," the NRDC said today.

Two other civil organizations are using the courts to seek the Energy Task Force records. In the case of Judicial Watch v. National Energy Policy Development Group, the two organizations - Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club - sued the Bush administration for violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which promotes open and balanced government decision making. Judge Emmett Sullivan ordered discovery in this case, but the DC Circuit Court stayed this decision on December 6, pending appeal.