GAO Prepares to Sue Cheney
by Guest Blogger, 2/14/2002
GAO has power under federal law to conduct investigations for purposes of congressional oversight of the executive branch, as well as to sue officials that defy Congressional authority. In this statement issued on January 30, The General Accounting Office (GAO) explains why it plans to sue Vice President Dick Cheney within 2 to 3 weeks, marking the first time in its 80-year history that GAO will sue a federal entity. (See related article in the Washington Post ). Cheney and the White House continue to deny GAO requests to turn over the participant names, dates, times, and topics of meetings between members of Cheney's energy task force and outside groups and individuals. GAO has power under federal law to conduct investigations for purposes of congressional oversight of the executive branch, as well as to sue officials that defy Congressional authority. In his refusal to meet the demands of transparency, Cheney continues to uphold the right of the White House to receive advice from citizens in private, without those conversations being released to the public. GAO has limited its request to specific information (noted above) that, even if disclosed, will not reveal the substantive content of the meetings. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), ranking minority member of the House Government Reform Committee, and John Dingell (D-MI) wrote a letter to Cheney stating that if the White House won this case in court, it would be "virtually immune from routine oversight," and that by setting a precedent such as this one, "executive privilege would never have to be invoked." Waxman and Dingell write in closing, "we do not believe that the American people . . . support radically changing our system of government so that the White House is accountable to no one." In a related case, Judicial Watch, Inc (a nonprofit watchdog organization) filed suit against the National Energy Policy Development Group (D. D.C., No. 01-1530) in July 2001 for the minutes of meetings held by the Task Force. A D.C. District Court Judge ruled (on January 31) that the Bush Administration must explain, by February 5, why handing over information about its meetings to Judicial Watch would violate the Constitution. As Waxman and Dingell noted in their letter, both the GAO and Judicial Watch cases will be very important in setting precedent for future situations in which the Executive Branch refuses to disclose information to Congress or to the public.