WASHINGTON – The General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, won't appeal the dismissal of its lawsuit to force Vice President Dick Cheney to reveal the role energy industry bigwigs played in formulating President Bush's energy plan, GAO's chief announced Friday.
GAO head David Walker said it was wrong of the court to dismiss the suit, but that it doesn't want to commit the time and resources needed to pursue the case filed against the National Energy Policy Development Group.
"GAO strongly believes the district court's decision is incorrect, but further pursuit of the NEPDG information would require investment of significant time and resources over several years," Walker said. Several private organizations are pursuing the same information in separate court cases, he noted.
Walker said GAO wanted to know the list of executives and lobbyists who met with Cheney and his aides while the administration developed its policy, but critical cooperation wasn't there.
"While we have decided not to pursue this matter further in the courts, we hope that the administration will do the right thing and fulfill its obligations when it comes to disclosures to GAO, the Congress and the public, not only in connection with this matter but all matters in the future.
The legislative branch's lawsuit against the executive branch was the first of its kind and raised alarm bells in the court over separation of powers.
In December, U.S. District Judge John Bates, a Bush appointee, said the GAO was overreaching its powers by pursuing the lawsuit.
"This case, in which neither a House of Congress nor any congressional committee has issued a subpoena for the disputed information or authorized this suit, is not the setting for such unprecedented judicial action," the judge wrote in his ruling.
"No court has ever before granted what the comptroller general seeks," wrote Bates.
Walker said that he had engaged in "extensive outreach with congressional leadership" and had the support of "two full committee chairs and two subcommittee chairs of the Senate, acting on behalf of their respective committees and subcommittees, all of which had jurisdiction over this matter."
Both the House and the Senate are now under Republican control.
The head of the GAO said, however, that Bates' decision "did not address the merits" of the lawsuit and would not restrict the agency's ability to carry out its investigative responsibilities in other areas.
The Cheney energy plan issued in the spring of 2001 called for expanded oil and gas drilling on public land and eased regulatory barriers to new nuclear power plants. The plan also recommended taking steps to increase conservation and using alternative fuels.
The suit asked the court to require Cheney to reveal who attended the energy task force meetings, with whom the task force met to develop its recommendations, how it determined whom to invite and the cost of developing the policy.
Aside from a few details revealed by the Bush administration amid the collapse of Enron Corp., the White House has refused to identify the people who met with the Cheney task force met. Enron representatives met six times with the vice president or his aides.
Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he expected the Bush administration to be more forthcoming in the future.
"Reasonable people can differ on the GAO's decision not to pursue this matter further. I would have preferred to keep fighting. But reasonable people cannot differ on the need for more sunshine on this administration's actions," he said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.