Cheney's Moves on Secrecy Stir Storm over Office's Dual Role

Article excerpt

Is Vice President Dick Cheney's office an executive branch agency? Or is it a Washington hybrid that works for both the executive and legislative branches of the US government? That's the underlying issue in a new controversy over Mr. Cheney's lack of cooperation with a government office charged with safeguarding national security information.

The whole matter sounds arcane, and in many ways it is. After all, it involves paperwork, classified information, and the filing of reports. But Democratic lawmakers say it is a serious matter that reflects on the vice president's penchant for secrecy - and that they might even hold up the funding for his office as a result.

"That might not be a bad idea," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California about cutting Cheney's budget during a broadcast interview on June 24.

At issue is the work of the Information Security Oversight Office - a small part of the National Archives whose job it is to oversee the government-wide security classification system.

As part of that work, the office collects data on how much US material is classified and declassified. Per a signed presidential executive order, agencies of the executive branch are required to hand this information over.

Cheney's office provided this information in 2001 and 2002. Then it stopped.

Prodded by an outsider's complaint, last spring the National Archives sent letters to Cheney's office requesting the classification data. It received no response.

Administration officials say Cheney's office is exempt from the executive order, since it has both executive branch and legislative functions. Per the US Constitution, the vice president serves as president of the Senate, and may vote to break ties in that chamber.

On June 22, White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said the executive order didn't intend Cheney's office to be treated as an administration agency.

"He's not exempt from following the laws of the United States," said Ms. Perino. "He's exempt just from this reporting requirement in this particular executive order."

Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California rejected this assertion as absurd. Representative Waxman is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is investigating the classification matter. …