Democrats question secrecy of energy group

Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two senior Democratic congressmen have sent a list of questions to Andrew Lundquist, the top aide for Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, asking him about how private interests are influencing the group and why meetings are secret.

The administration says the task force members and staff are all federal employees working hard to finish a report by mid-May, so the meetings are properly closed.

But Reps. John Dingell of Michigan and Henry Waxman of California want more details. On Thursday, they asked Lundquist to identify any part-time task force employees and where such people might work outside the government. They also asked Lundquist to identify any task force members or staff who are serving as government contractors while on leave from private jobs.

''We have become concerned about the conduct and composition of the task force,'' the congressmen said in a separate letter asking federal Comptroller General David Walker to investigate. ''We question the apparent efforts of the task force to shield its membership and deliberations from public scrutiny.''

Critics, particularly environmental groups, have said the task force is hearing too much from industry interests and focuses mostly on actions that would increase energy supply, including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The task force, as identified by the administration, includes several cabinet secretaries, the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency, and several top White House aides.

Lundquist, formerly of Fairbanks, served as Alaska GOP Sen. Frank Murkowski's chief of staff until last year.

The extent of private involvement should determine whether the task force's meetings and membership are public, said Paul Weinberger, minority counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Dingell and Waxman, in their letter, said federal law requires that advisory committee meetings ''be noticed in advance, open to the general public, and on the record, except under certain limited circumstances.''

That law doesn't apply to meetings that only involve federal employees, Weinberger said. However, it does apply ''when a larger group is formed that includes private groups or individuals whose advice is being solicited in a systematic way,'' he said.

Juleanne Glover Weiss, Cheney's spokeswoman, said all the task force members and staff are federal employees.

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