The draft of a proposed national energy strategy the Energy Department will send to the White House in September will contain "options" for President Bush's consideration, rather than policy recommendations.

The decision not to set forth policy recommendations, reached at an unpublicized White House meeting in March, has been described by administration officials as procedural rather than political and "not new news."

But to the distress of the Energy Department, it has reinforced the suspicion among some energy industry executives and interest groups that the Bush administration wants to avoid necessary but politically or economically painful decisions, at least until after November's elections.

Representatives of the oil, electric utility and nuclear power industries have said in separate interviews recently that they fear the administration is retreating for political reasons from its commitment to devise a comprehensive energy policy and that as a result the nation's energy decisions will be driven by crisis rather than choice.

A comprehensive policy would require politically volatile choices on such issues as offshore oil drilling, energy taxation and the future of nuclear power. But "nobody is willing to expend any political credit," said Elihu Bergman, executive director of Americans for Energy Independence, a citizens watchdog group.

Andrew C. Kadak, president of Yankee Atomic Electric Co., said he wrote twice to Linda G. Stuntz, deputy energy undersecretary for policy and coordinator of the energy strategy project, to urge her, "Linda, don't do options."

"I thought it was a function of the Energy Department to frame a policy and then defend it within the administration," said W. Harrison Wellford, counsel to the Independent Energy Producers Association. "But I guess if I were running the political side of the shop, not having these hard choices out there as targets during the campaign would be a good idea."

"I guess we have mixed feelings," said John Anderson, director of the Energy Consumers Resource Council, a coalition of the nation's biggest industrial consumers of electricity. "We have spent a great deal of time and effort on this and we have not seen a strong policy document in the past and I guess we won't this time. But I'm not sure that's inappropriate. I haven't been as certain as {Energy Secretary James D.} Watkins that there is a need for it at this time."

His members, Anderson said, are not convinced that a national electricity shortage is imminent or inevitable, despite Energy Department projections.

Watkins said last November that the national energy strategy Bush asked him to devise "will provide concrete recommendations for legislation and regulatory changes." But there have been hints for some time that Watkins was not going to get out in front of the White House on controversial proposals that the president might fail to endorse. An "interim report" that he issued at a news conference in April consisted of summaries of testimony from public hearings on various energy issues, but offered no policy recommendations.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said last week that the decision "not to develop recommendations for the final draft" was made "in response to a request by the administration's Economic Policy Council, a Cabinet-level group of executive agencies."

Stuntz said in an interview that "there is a lot of truth to that statement but there are some subtle inaccuracies" that cast it in the wrong light. Bush and Watkins intended from the beginning to promulgate an administration-wide energy policy, not just a Department of Energy policy, she said. That meant the president, rather than one Cabinet officer, would have to make the policy decisions after studying the options available to him and after hearing from everyone in the Cabinet.

She said the options decision was made at an Economic Policy Council meeting in March attended by Watkins, White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, budget director Richard G. Darman and representatives of the president's Council of Economic Advisers.

"There was discussion about the process -- at what point would the president be involved and how, when would the final one be published, how would it link with the budget process," Stuntz said. "These were important issues that we had to get some top-level guidance on."

She said the council decided unanimously that the best way to proceed was for the Energy Department to submit a comprehensive set of energy options, backed by unarguable data, from which Bush can make the "hard choices."

"At the end of the day the president is going to select those options or sets of options that he thinks makes sense," Stuntz said. "That does not say that the final document when published in January is not going to have some controversial recommendations, not going to make some people unhappy. This secretary isn't about to put out something that isn't what he said from the beginning he wants, which is an action plan that's implementable."