Washington The investigative arm of Congress is giving up its court battle against Vice President Dick Cheney, who has refused to disclose the industry contacts he and his aides had in formulating the Bush administration's energy plan.
The General Accounting Office on Friday declined to appeal a recent court ruling in favor of Cheney, leaving the fight to private groups that say the Bush White House must reveal which business executives and lobbyists had a role in influencing the plan.
The administration is calling for expanded oil and gas drilling on public land and easing regulatory barriers.
Comptroller General David Walker said he decided not to appeal the case after consulting with congressional leaders and others. Both the House and the Senate are under Republican control.
The White House said it was pleased with the GAO's decision. Spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the White House was fighting to uphold the principle that the president and vice president receive "unvarnished advice."
Aside from a few details that the administration revealed amid the collapse of Enron Corp., the White House has refused to identify the people the Cheney task force met with. Enron representatives -- among President Bush's most generous financial donors in his years as governor and presidential candidate -- met six times with the vice president or his aides.
Walker said, "We hope the GAO is never again put in the position of having to resort to the courts to obtain information that Congress needs to perform its constitutional duties." But he said the agency would go to court again if necessary.
Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, called the GAO decision "a tremendous setback for open government."
Walker said, "In the world's greatest democracy, we should lead by example and base public disclosure on what is the right thing to do rather than on what one believes one is compelled to do."
U.S. District Judge John Bates, a Bush appointee, ruled in December that the GAO's lawsuit was an unprecedented act that raised serious separation-of-powers issues.
The GAO said, however, that Bates had misapplied a 1997 Supreme Court decision that turned away six members of Congress who challenged a law enabling the president to veto specific items in spending bills.
Private groups pursuing information about the Cheney task force pledged to press on with their lawsuits.