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Corporations shaped Bush energy policy, GAO says

WASHINGTON -- The White House collaborated heavily with corporations in developing President Bush's energy policy but repeatedly refused to give congressional investigators details of the meetings, according to a federal report issued yesterday.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said in the report that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham privately discussed the formulation of Bush's policy "with chief executive officers of petroleum, electricity, nuclear, coal, chemical, and natural gas companies, among others."

An energy task force, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, relied for outside advice primarily on "petroleum, coal, nuclear, natural gas, electricity industry representatives and lobbyists," while seeking limited input from academic specialists, environmentalists, and policy groups, the GAO said.

The task force was one of Bush's highest priorities after his inauguration and was launched on his 10th day in office. None of the group's meetings was open to the public, and participants told GAO investigators they "could not recollect whether official rosters or minutes were kept," the report said.

Yesterday's report was the culmination of a lengthy legal battle between Congress and the Bush administration over the secrecy of government deliberations. The GAO sued in federal court for access to records of Cheney's task force, but dropped the action after a decisive court setback, followed by pressure from Republicans. The GAO said its information was incomplete because of administration intransigence. Although the Energy Department released e-mails, letters, and calendars that reflected heavy input from corporations, the GAO report provided the first systematic look at the extent to which the administration relied on corporations and insisted on secrecy in developing its policy, issued in May 2001.

David M. Walker, comptroller general of the United States and head of the GAO, said in an interview the standoff over the task force documents called into question the existence of "a reasonable degree of transparency and an appropriate degree of accountability in government." Walker said the energy investigation was the first instance since he took office in November 1998 in which the GAO was unable to do its job and produce a report according to generally accepted government auditing standards.

"The Congress and the American people had the right to know the limited amount of information we were seeking," Walker said.

The White House issued no substantive response. Jennifer Millerwise, Cheney's spokeswoman, said the White House hopes "that everyone will now focus as strongly as the administration has on the substance of meeting America's energy needs." Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, who joined the request for the GAO probe when he was chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said voters should know what role energy companies played in writing the policy. "They will never know the full truth because the White House chose to stonewall instead of cooperate with investigators," said Lieberman.

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