What Cheney fears

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2001

This editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

Vice President Dick Cheney is hiding something - and it's not the cost of his electric bills. It's bad enough that the man who told Americans, "If you want to leave all the lights on in your house, you can - but you will pay for it" has gotten the Navy to foot the electric bills for his mansion at the Washington Naval Observatory rather than pay them out of his own official budget. But Cheney's high-profile clumsiness shouldn't disguise a far more significant misstep.

The vice president's office continues to refuse General Accounting Office requests for a breakdown of the costs incurred by his energy task force and a list of the private-sector participants in it. What Congressional Quarterly is calling a "high-stakes showdown" is taking place.

In a blunt June 7 letter to GAO head David M. Walker, Cheney's legal counsel, David S. Addington, told Walker to butt out. Last week, Timothy E. Flanigan, deputy counsel to the president, and Paul P. Colborn, special counsel, met at the Justice Department with General Accounting Office officials, but the meeting went nowhere. On July 18, the GAO sent an unprecedented "demand" letter to the vice president, requesting the materials within 20 days. The final step left to the GAO, should the administration refuse to comply, would be to issue a subpoena.

The only way that the administration can refuse to volunteer the information would be for the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mitch Daniels, to certify that handing over this information would damage national security. GAO head Walker, who was assistant labor secretary under presidents Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush, has said that the vice president's actions are a "broad-based frontal attack on our authority" and that he hopes a "reasonable compromise" can be reached.

Two reasons may help explain why Cheney is stonewalling. The first is that the administration wants to run future, controversial policies through the vice president's office to shield them from scrutiny and accountability, and it is trying to use this as a model. The other reason is that handing over the list would probably confirm what an embarrassment President Bush's energy plan is.

The truth is, the energy crisis in California and the West has eased for now as a result of a slowing economy, increased conservation measures and price controls - which the administration resisted. The White House solution - more drilling, more production - had not a thing to do with it.

Cheney can't be thrilled about letting Americans see the depth of influence that the oil and gas industry has on the energy plan and in the White House.

Yet that is no reason for a public official to withhold information that he is legally obligated to provide to other agencies of government.

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