WASHINGTON – House Democrats on Thursday denounced Vice President Dick Cheney's idea of abolishing a government office charged with safeguarding national security information — and criticized him for refusing to cooperate with the agency.
Cheney's office — over the objections of the National Archives — has exempted itself from a presidential executive order that seeks to protect national security information generated by the government, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Under the order, executive branch offices are required to give the Information Security Oversight Office at the archives data on how much material it has classified and declassified.
Cheney's office provided the information in 2001 and 2002, then stopped. Henry Waxman, chairman of the committee, said Cheney's office claims it need not comply with the executive order because it is not an "entity within the executive branch."
"Your decision to except your office from the president's order is problematic because it could place national security secrets at risk," Waxman wrote in a letter to Cheney on Thursday.
Megan McGinn, a spokeswoman for the vice president, said Cheney's office was not breaking the law, but did not elaborate.
"We are confident that we are conducting the office properly under the law," she said.
The Information Security Oversight Office has asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resolve the legal dispute over whether the order applies to Cheney's office. So far, the Justice Department has not ruled on the issue.
Waxman said J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office, told the panel that after he sought advice from the Justice Department, Cheney's office recommended that the executive order be amended to abolish the ISOO. "I question both the legality and wisdom of your actions," Waxman said.
Waxman said Leonard also told the panel that in 2004, Cheney's office blocked the archives from doing an onsite inspection of his office to make sure classified information was being properly protected.
"To my knowledge, this was the first time in the nearly 30-year history of the Information Security Oversight Office that a request for access to conduct a security inspection was denied by a White House office," Waxman wrote.
The eight-page letter asks Cheney to respond to a series of questions about why he believes his office is exempt, and what steps his office has taken to ensure that national security information is protected.