Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Four Branches of U.S. Government: Executive, Legislative, Judicial, and Dick Cheney's Office

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Dick Cheney is refusing to comply with the presidential directive that requires executive branch personnel either to submit periodic reports on the classified information held in their offices, or to allow National Archives staff to conduct in-office inspections. His reason? The office of the vice-president is not part of the executive branch of government:

The Oversight Committee has learned that over the objections of the National Archives, Vice President Cheney exempted his office from the presidential order that establishes government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information. The Vice President asserts that his office is not an “entity within the executive branch.”

As described in a letter from Chairman Waxman to the Vice President, the National Archives protested the Vice President's position in letters written in June 2006 and August 2006. When these letters were ignored, the National Archives wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in January 2007 to seek a resolution of the impasse. The Vice President's staff responded by seeking to abolish the agency within the Archives that is responsible for implementing the President's executive order.

According to ABC's The Blotter, Cheney did initially file the required reports, but stopped doing so in 2003; and in 2004 he denied inspectors from the National Archives access to his office.

Dan Froomkin points us to an April 2006 article by Mark Silva of the Chicago Tribune which connects Cheney's refusal to account for his office's handling of national security information to the Bush administration's obsession with secrecy in general:
As the Bush administration has dramatically accelerated the classification of information as "top secret" or "confidential," one office is refusing to report on its annual activity in classifying documents: the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

A standing executive order, strengthened by President Bush in 2003, requires all agencies and "any other entity within the executive branch" to provide an annual accounting of their classification of documents. More than 80 agencies have collectively reported to the National Archives that they made 15.6 million decisions in 2004 to classify information, nearly double the number in 2001, but Cheney insists he is exempt.

Explaining why the vice president has withheld even a tally of his office's secrecy when offices such as the National Security Council routinely report theirs, a spokeswoman said Cheney is "not under any duty" to provide it.

That is only one way the Bush administration, from its opening weeks in 2001, has asserted control over information. By keeping secret so many directives and actions, the administration has precluded the public — and often Congress — from knowing about some of the most significant decisions and acts of the White House.
And as the administration has sealed an increasing number of documents as secret or sensitive, and cut the number of documents being declassified each year, the refusal of Cheney's office to report on the number of its decisions stands out.

A directive from the National Archives, acting under the authority of the executive order bolstered by Bush in March 2003, requires all agencies and executive-branch units to report annually on classification and declassification of files.

Cheney's office maintains that its dual executive and legislative duties make it unique, as the vice president also serves as Senate president.

"This matter has been carefully reviewed," spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said. "It has been determined that the reporting requirement does not apply to the office of the vice president."

There is a great deal more commentary on this at Memeorandum.


Phydeaux Speaks said...

Excellent post, as always, Kathy.

Kathy said...

Thank you!