George W. Bush could not bring himself to mention the name “Enron” inhis State of the Union address. But no one doubted that, when thepresident spoke of the need for greater corporate accountability Tuesdaynight, he was refering to the economic and political scandals that havearisen in the aftermath of the collapse of Houston-based Enron Corp.
Credit Bush with a few calming lines in response to mounting concernsregarding the behavior not just of Enron executives but of members ofhis own administration with close ties to the bankrupt energyconglomerate. It was good to hear the most corporate president inAmerican history tell Congress that, “Through stricter accountingstandards and tougher disclosure requirements, corporate America must bemade more accountable to employees and shareholders and held to thehighest standards of conduct.”
But, as Bill Clinton illustrated year after year, State of the Uniontalk comes cheap.
So how can Bush prove to the American people he is serious about thiswhole accountability thing?
The president could start by identifying the executives of Enron andother corporations who met with him and Vice President Dick Cheney toforge the administration’s energy policy. So far, the president hasrefused to release any of the names, calling demands for details frommembers of Congress and the General Accounting Office “an encroachmenton the executive branch’s ability to conduct business.”
Here’s a hint for the president as he explores “the highest standards ofconduct”: If he wants to teach corporations to be more accountable, hemight start by being more accountable about the official business hehimself is conducting with corporations such as Enron.