In 1962 President of the United States John F. Kennedy
issued Executive Order
11007 requiring government agencies to be accountable for an orderly process of seeking outside advice - due to concerns over the lack of balanced advice and public participation in government policy. That executive order became the foundation for the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972
. The goal was to assure that in meetings special interest groups
would not unduly influence the operations of government.
Many of the issues the government faces are difficult ones. The public must be certain that the proposed policy changes have been developed after careful deliberation of all points of view. Secret meetings breed suspicion-- we don't know who or what arguments are shaping government policy. For this reason Sunshine Laws have been passed all over the country at all levels of government to shed light on these decisions and to hold politicians accountable. To this end the Act states that:
Congress and the public should be kept informed with respect to the number, purpose, membership, activities, and cost of advisory committees...
The Federal Advisory Committee Act defines an Advisory Committee as:
... any committee, board, commission, council, conference, panel, task force, or other similar group, or any subcommittee or other subgroup thereof, which is--
(A) established by statute or reorganization plan, or
(B) established or utilized by the President, or
(C) established or utilized by one or more agencies, in the interest of obtaining advice or recommendations for the President or one or more agencies or officers of the Federal Government, except that such term excludes (i) the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, (ii) the Commission on Government Procurement, and (iii) any committee which is composed wholly of full-time officers or employees of the Federal Government.
The Act also exempts the Central Intelligence Agency
and the Federal Reserve Board
and hands oversight of the Advisory Committees to the General Accounting Office
Compliance with this law - or lack thereof - became an issue early in the Clinton administration when the President initially refused to release the names of those who had participated in the Health-care Task Force headed by Hillary Clinton. Only after months of being attacked publicly and under threat of lawsuits did the administration relent and release the names.
An almost identical scenario exists with Vice-President Cheney's Energy Task Force. The Bush administration has refused to release the names of members of the task force and has publicly said it will go to court and assert executive privilege to keep the names confidential. The GAO has indicated that it will sue to have the names released. While this information was in dispute for months, only with the collapse of ENRON - and ENRON's considerable influence on the administration's energy policy -- has it begun to receive any public scrutiny.
On January 25, 2002, the Sierra Club filed suit in San Francisco federal court, under the Federal Advisory Committee Act , asking that the White House give a full accounting of who from private industry participated in crafting the national energy policy it introduced last May.