Officials of the departments of Energy and Justice told a House subcommittee yesterday that DOE is barred by a federal court order from sharing its information on the profits and revenues of 10 major oil companies with federal investigative agencies.
The sharing of information has been a continuing point of contention between DOE, federal law enforcement agencies investigating possible antitrust violations, and congressional committees.
Energy Information Administrator Lincoln E. Moses yesterday told the House energy and power subcommittee that his agency has not followed a 1974 law that requires it to share all information with other federal agencies and with Congress.
"Telling the respondent that his reply will be made available to agencies with enforcement responsibilities tends to be inhibitory," Moses explained. "Telling the respondent that his reply will be used only for statistical purposes tends to encourage cooperation, and thus to elicit complete, prompt replies."
Moses and Assistant Attorney General Barbara Allen Babcock Explained that DOE and the 10 oil companies negotiated in April an agreement in federal court in Delaware. Under the agreement, the oil companies would give DOE reports on their profits, revenue and interest in return for the promise that DOE would not release any of the information to any other federal agency, including the Justice Department's antitrust division.
This unusual agreement came after eight oil companies - Shell Oil, Texaco, Phillips Petroleum, Coastal States Gas, Gulf Oil, Mobil Corp., Union Oil and Continental Oil (Conoco) - filed suit challenging DOE's right to collect the information and the department's right to release it to other agencies. Two other oil companies - Arco and Standard of Indiana (Amoco) - later joined the suit.
Fifteen other oil companies complied with DOE's request and submitted the detailed reports by the April deadline.
Babcock told the subcommittee that the justice Department, representing DOE agreed to the consent order not to release the information for 120 days because otherwise the oil companies may have tried to get a temporary restraining order forbidding DOE from even collecting the information.
The consent agreement expires Aug. 1, but it can be extended by agreement of both parties or by court order. Babcock told the subcommittee that the government "of course, will vigorously oppose" any attempt to extend the arrangement.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who headed yesterday's hearing, told Babcock that DOE is required by law to share all its information with the Federal Trade Commission, the General Accounting Office and Congress.
"You have agreed to something that can be extended and you did this without consulting Congress and the other agencies," he said.
Babcock said the agreement was entered into "as part of an overall litigation strategy." She said, "Our longrange goal in this case is to insure that this information can be disseminated."
One other consequence of that arrangement, Moses told the subcommittee, was that until the suit is resolved DOE has stopped developing a policy on sharing information with other agencies.
Moses said DOE currently has no such policy, except not to release information that has been collected without telling the respondent the data subsequently would be turned over to other federal agencies.
"It would be grossly inappropriate to require that everything we get be disseminated, on grounds of common sense," Moses said. He said that protecting respondents' confidentiality "makes it a great deal easier" to get information.