- Threats by Republicans to cut the General Accounting
Office (GAO) budget influenced its decision to abandon a lawsuit against
Vice President Dick Cheney, The Hill has learned.
- Sources familiar with high-level discussions at the GAO
said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Appropriations Committee,
met with GAO Comptroller General David Walker earlier this year and ìunambiguouslyî
pressured him to drop the suit or face cuts in his $440 million budget.
- Walker yesterday acknowledged meeting Stevens, but denied
the senator threatened to cut funding for the investigative agency. However,
he confirmed that such threats were made, although he said they came from
a lawmaker not ìin a position to deliverî on them and did
not occur recently. The decision to drop the lawsuit has raised concerns
that Congressís all-purpose auditor has sacrificed its traditional
role as an independent arm of Congress.
- ì I met with Stevens in his capacity of president
pro tempore,î the comptroller said: ìIn the conversation with
Sen. Stevens there was no assertion or inference [of funding cuts]. He
didnít even raise the issue of appropriations.î
- Walker did say, however, that several lawmakers have
threatened in the past year to cut agency funding if it persisted with
the controversial lawsuit. He also said the budget threat was among a number
of factors that tipped his Feb. 7 decision to halt litigation.
- A GAO staff member and several Stevensís aides
attended the meeting.
- Stevensís offices were closed at press time and
neither the senator nor his spokeswoman could be reached for comment.
- The controversy with Cheney came to a head in December
after U.S. District Court Judge John Bates, citing separation of powers,
ruled that Walker lacked sufficient grounds to compel Cheney to disclose
the records of a White House energy task force that he had headed.
- Walker had filed the suit against Cheney in February
2002 at the request of House Democrats. This was the first time in its
81-year history that the GAO, acting in its capacity as the investigative
arm of Congress, sued the executive branch to obtain withheld information.
- Walker said he initiated all the meetings on Capitol
Hill and ìI did what I thought was right.î
- Before deciding not to appeal Batesís decision,
Walker said he met senior Republicans and Democrats in both chambers, and
most lawmakers of them urged him not to pursue the matter. He said, ìI
considered all the facts and circumstances and am very comfortable with
- But several House Democratic leaders and key members
of the Democratic Caucus have stringently criticized Walkerís decision.
- ì I thought it was a bad decision,î said
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Government Reform
Committee, who along with Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the senior Democrat
on the Energy and Commerce Committee, pressed Walker to file the suit last
- ì If you have a GOP Congress not interested in
exercising the role of oversight, and GAO doesnít act independently
of the Congress, there is nobody providing the job of checks and balances
called for in our Constitution,î said Waxman. ìThis jeopardizes
GAOís ability to act independently in the future.î
- Bates, who was nominated to the bench by the current
president, ruled against the GAO because ìneither a house of Congress
nor any congressional committee has issued a subpoena for the disputed
- By not appealing this ruling, House Democrats argue,
GAO will not be able to pursue sensitive information in the future without
permission from the majority party.
- House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Walkerís
decision was a ìvery unfortunate undermining of GAOís independence
- Rep. Bob Matsui (D-Calif.), chair of the House Democratsí
campaign committee, said, ìThis not only undermines the independence
of the GAO, but it also makes it difficult to get information.î
- ì With the congressional committees controlled
by the Republicans, I think itís unlikely youíll see GAO
pursue something adversarial, and thatís a problem,î Matsui
added. Matsui said he believed that Walker probably faced political pressure
to drop the lawsuit.
- On the floor of the House last Wednesday, Waxman condemned
- ìGAO will be able to continue [its] routine work.
And if a Republican controlled committee ever urges GAO to pursue a controversial
investigation of the Bush administration, GAO may be able to do this. But
donít hold your breath.î
- Walker said that while Republican control of Congress
and the White House makes GAO investigations more complicated, it wouldnít
affect his judgment. If the GAO is unable to obtain information from the
executive branch, Walker said he would ask the appropriate committee of
jurisdiction for a subpoena.
- In response to allegations that the agencyís effectiveness
would be diminished, Walker pointed to GAOís annual report, which
shows that the agency saved taxpayers $37.7 billion in return for its approximately
$440 million budget.
- Walker, a former aide to President Reagan who took office
in November 1998, is serving a 15-year term.