Congressional Record: February 12, 2003 (House)
Page H432


  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the 
gentleman from California (Mr. Waxman) is recognized for 5 minutes.
  Mr. WAXMAN. Mr. Speaker, last Friday, February 7, the General 
Accounting Office abandoned its efforts to obtain basic records about 
the operation of the Vice President's Task Force on Energy Policy. This 
action received only limited attention, and few people fully understand 
its profound consequences.
  When we have divided government, the public can expect Congress to 
conduct needed oversight over the executive branch. But today we are 
living in an era of one-party control. This means the House and the 
Senate are not going to conduct meaningful oversight of the Bush 
administration. When there is one-party control of both the White House 
and Congress, there is only one entity that can hold the administration 
accountable, and that is the independent General Accounting Office. But 
now GAO has been forced to surrender this fundamental independence.
  When GAO decided not to appeal the District Court decision in Walker 
v. Cheney, it made a fateful decision. In the Comptroller General's 
words, GAO will now require "an affirmative statement of support from 
at least one full committee with jurisdiction over any records they 
seek to access prior to any future court action by GAO." Translated, 
what this means is that GAO will bring future actions to enforce its 
rights to documents only with the blessings of the majority party in 
  This is a fundamental shift in our system of checks and balances. For 
all practical purposes, the Bush administration is now immune from 
effective oversight by the Congress. Some people say GAO should never 
have brought legal action to obtain information about the energy task 
force, but in reality GAO had no choice.
  The Bush administration's penchant for secrecy has been demonstrated 
time and time again. The Department of Justice has issued a directive 
curtailing public access to information under the Freedom of 
Information Act. The White House has restricted access to Presidential 
records. The administration has refused to provide information about 
the identity of over 1,000 individuals detained in the name of homeland 
  The White House deliberately picked this fight with GAO in order to 
secure its power to run the government in secret. From the start, the 
White House assumed a hostile and uncompromising position, arguing that 
GAO's investigation "would unconstitutionally interfere with the 
functioning of the executive branch." Even when GAO voluntarily scaled 
back its request, dropping its demand for minutes and notes, the Vice 
President's office was intransigent. Faced with an administration that 
had no interest in reaching an accommodation, GAO was left with no 
choice. Reluctantly on February 22, 2002, GAO filed its first-ever 
lawsuit against the executive branch to obtain access to information.

                              {time}  1845

  In December, the district court in the case issued a sweeping 
decision in favor of the Bush administration, ruling that GAO had no 
standing to sue the executive branch. The judge in the case was a 
recent Bush appointee who served as a deputy to Ken Starr during the 
Independent Counsel investigation of the Clinton administration. The 
judge's reasoning contorted the law, and it ignored both Supreme Court 
and appellate court precedent recognizing GAO's right to use the courts 
to enforce its statutory rights to information.
  Before deciding whether to pursue an appeal, the Comptroller General 
consulted with congressional leaders. He found no support from 
Republican leaders for an appeal.
  This hypocrisy is simply breathtaking. During the 1990s, it was the 
Republicans in Congress who embarked on a concerted effort to undermine 
the authority of the President. Congressional committees spent over $15 
million investigating the White House. They demanded and received 
information on the innermost workings of the White House. They 
subpoenaed top White House officials to testify about the advice they 
gave the President. They forced the White House to disclose internal 
White House documents, memos, e-mails, phone records, and even lists of 
guests at White House movie showings. They abused congressional powers, 
and they launched countless GAO investigations.
  But now that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are in office--
  The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Pearce). The time of the gentleman has 
  Mr. WAXMAN. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to proceed for 1 
additional minute.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Chair cannot entertain the motion. The 
gentleman's time has expired.