WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal judge has ordered a half-dozen federal agencies to release within two months records of their involvement in an energy task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.
Ruling in a case filed nearly a year ago, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said Tuesday the agencies have had sufficient time to collect thousands of pages of material from its files.
Also covered by Friedman's order is the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The agencies must release the material promptly or itemize the documents they want to keep confidential so the lawsuit filed by the conservative group Judicial Watch can proceed, the judge said.
OMB found 374 documents in its files on the Cheney task force and has released six of them, saying the rest should remain secret because they are internal agency memoranda.
Friedman's decision is the second in two weeks by a federal judge setting a timetable for the prompt release of materials involving the Cheney energy task force.
Separately, the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, has filed a lawsuit against Cheney in an effort to force disclosure of the identifies of people who met directly with Cheney or his aides.
The Bush administration is trying to keep confidential the names of industry executives and lobbyists who met with the White House as it formulated national energy policy a year ago and what the participants discussed.
The recent rulings came in cases filed by private groups seeking information from executive branch agencies, not from the White House itself.
``The administration has never disputed the necessity of producing information required by law to be made public,'' said Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock.
``The process of sorting through thousands of documents to determine which the law requires federal agencies to disclose, and which Congress has protected from public disclosure, is often laborious and time-consuming,'' she said.
Friedman said the Environmental Protection Agency is withholding 19,500 pages on its work for the Cheney task force. The EPA's deadlines are March 25 for releasing documents and April 25 to identify documents it seeks to keep secret.
Other agencies involved in the order are Interior, Agriculture, Energy, Transportation and Commerce.
The Commerce Department has 9,000 pages of documents regarding the Cheney task force and the Transportation Department has 6,000 pages.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled Feb. 21 that the energy department must release records relating to the Cheney task force starting March 25 and must provide a list by late April of the documents it intends to keep secret. The Energy Department says it has 7,500 pages relating to the task force.