Wednesday, May 20, 2009

PTFOA, Where are you?
President's Auto Task Force is Incommunicado, and Ralph Nader is Right - To a Point

Where is, repeat, where is, the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry? The World Wonders. At the risk of sounding too much like Admiral Chester Nimitz, and making Admiral Halsey roll over in his grave, this is a question that I've been asking lately. This all started when I though I'd like to write a letter to Steven Rattner, the chairman of the commission. So I googled the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry. Result: nothing, no official contact information at all. I tried the White House website. I tried the Department of the Treasury website. I tried looking at I searched the Federal Register. All searches resulted in 0 results.

I dare you to find an official contact person, address or phone number for the President's Task Force on the Auto Industry. I tried, friends, I tried.

After trying to find a public contact, I decided to go through official channels. I figured, as a public agency, they would have to post instructions on procedures for Freedom of Information Act requests. (Hence the check of the Federal Register. Nothing was there, so I emailed the good folks at the open government program of Public Citizen. They emailed me back and confirmed my suspicion, President Barack Obama's Auto Industry Task Force exists in the same shadowy underworld that Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force made famous. It was June 2004 that the Supreme Court punted the issue of accountability in the case of Cheney v. United States District Court. (In case you forgot, that's when Cheney and Scalia went hunting, a lawyer ended up in the hospital, and Scalia got all friendly-like.)

Until the Cheney decision, if a President convened a panel that included anyone but current executiveProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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ppointees, under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), the Committee was expected to meet certain minimum standards of open meetings, access to information and screening for bias. Cheney and Bush flouted the law. The Supreme Court looked the other way, and now it appears the Obama Administration isn't even paying lip service to FACA.

In other words, ladies and gentlemen, here we have a group of government officials with the power to spend tens of billions of our dollars with very little oversight, accountability or even accessability to public input. I started paying significant attention to the problem about three weeks ago. Other folks were way ahead of me including, wait for it, Ralph Nader. Ralph used to be really high on my list of admired folks until he, uh, exercised poor judgment relating to the 2000 election. That being said, even though he doesn't know when to stay out of a presidential race, Ralph Nader has probably forgotten more law and policy regarding open records and public access than I'll ever know.

Citizen Ralph (with Robert Weissman) on Monday made public an open letter to Congress in which he takes the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry (PTFOA) to task on numerous issues. In addition, he points out that the PTFOA has made and end run around all of the procedural safeguards of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. At this point, the Task Force isn't just advising the President, it's spending tens of billions of dollars and directly affecting the workings of one of the country's largest industries. The position it is taking as a lender and bankruptcy super creditor has the potential for upsetting bond markets in unrelated industries. In his letter, Nader asks Senator Chris Dodd and Barney Frank to exercise greater supervision over the PTFOA. I don't really agree with the recitation of the Task Force's sins which, in Nader's letter read like Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses, but I do agree with Nader's main theme, that if Obama's task force is going to act like Cheney's task force, then Congress has to get serious and exercise supervision.

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