A United States government watchdog is poised to take legal action against the Bush administration over its refusal to divulge the names of advisers secretly consulted before the announcement of its controversial energy policy.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) the investigative wing of the Congress has insisted it has a right to know the membership of the national energy policy development group.
This group discussed various options before Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, announced in May an energy policy package that included drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in Alaska.
Last month, the GAO sent Mr Cheney a "demand" requesting details of the group, which is known to include a number of executives from oil companies. It was the first time a president or vice-president had ever been sent such a letter by the watchdog.
Mr Cheney has since continually refused to provide the information. In a letter to David Walker, Comptroller General of the GAO, he said the request exceeded his lawful authority and "would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch".
The GAO is now considering the unusual option of issuing a legal challenge to the administration, which environmentalists claim gave the energy industry lobby too much involvement in the drafting of the policy document.
"The GAO firmly believes it has a clear statutory authority to perform this review and to obtain the information we are seeking," the watchdog said in a statement.
If the President decides the information was part of the White House's "deliberative processes" he could "certify" it, to prevent it being released. The next step would be a formal report by the GAO followed by a possible writ.
Henry Waxman, a Democratic Congressman and member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said of the secret advisers: "They want immunity from scrutiny. They're distorting the law to shield them from routine oversight and in the process trivializing and demeaning the constitutional prerogatives available to the President."
© 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd