Lawmakers Urge GAO Probe of Energy Task Force

Reps. John Dingell (D-MI) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) last week called on the General Accounting Office (GAO) to undertake an investigation into the White House energy task force in light of the shroud of secrecy surrounding its meetings and participants. They want to know whether the decision to close the task force meetings to the public is a violation of the sunshine laws and the "letter and the spirit" of Federal Advisory Committee Act.

"While we have never been provided with an official list of members of this task force, it is our understanding that these meetings took place at federal facilities with the participation of federal employees. We further understand that the meetings were conducted entirely in private," the two lawmakers wrote in a letter Friday to GAO Comptroller David Walker.

"We have become concerned about the conduct and composition of the task force." As the top Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with primary jurisdiction over federal energy policy, Dingell and Waxman said they questioned the "apparent efforts of the task force to shield its membership and deliberations from public scrutiny," The process of developing a national energy policy "needs sunshine."

Democrats in both the House and Senate have been strongly critical of the White House for its failure to include a couple of Democrats on the task force.

In its investigation, Dingell and Waxman asked the GAO to focus on obtaining: 1) a complete list of all task force members and staff; 2) a complete list of all task force meetings; 3) a complete accounting of all attendees at each meeting; 4) copies of all notices of task force meetings provided to the general public; 5) an accounting of the number of task force meetings that were open to the general public; 6) the criteria used by the task force to determine which non-federal parties would be invited to participate in its meetings; 7) copies of invitations to non-federal parties to attend task force meetings; and 8) accounting of all direct and indirect costs incurred by the task force to date.

In a related development, Dingell and Waxman voiced similar concerns in a letter to Andrew Lundquist, chief of staff for the task force. They urged Lundquist to respond to a series of questions about the "participants, the purpose, the outcome and the role of federal employees" at the task force's meetings. In addition, "we...would like to receive copies of all documents and records produced or received by the task force in connection with these meetings." They requested that he respond by May 4.

The Cabinet-level task force, which is headed up by Vice President Dick Cheney, has come under increasing criticism for the veil of secrecy it has cast around its proceedings. Even NGI has felt the sting of this. In late February, an NGI editor was contacted by Cheney's office and told not to report a speech that had been publicly delivered earlier by Lundquist. NGI went ahead anyway and wrote up the speech in which Lundquist provided only a few details about what the task force was doing (See NGI, March 5).

Similarly, a lower-level task force member gave a "public" speech to a National Energy Marketers Association conference in Washington earlier this month, during which she told NGI and other energy reporters that all comments about the task force were off the record (See NGI, April 9).

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