IG report rips NRC chair as abusive, misleading, and political

A long-awaited report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Inspector General paints a damning picture of Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who has played a key role in delaying the NRC from reporting on a safety study of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository.  The report prompted House Oversight and Reform Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) to issue this statement earlier this morning:

“The NRC Inspector General’s report paints an embarrassing picture of a bully whose use of deceit and manipulation is ruining the integrity of a respected independent regulatory agency. It’s quite clear that closer Congressional scrutiny of the NRC and the role the Obama Administration’s agenda has played in Chairman Jaczko’s unilateral actions is warranted and necessary.”

In order to understand the background, let’s first turn to Kimberly Strassel at the Wall Street Journal.  How exactly did Jaczko end up as chair of the NRC, and why?

This tale begins in 2008, when candidate Obama was determined to win Nevada, a crucial electoral state. Catering to locals, Mr. Obama promised to kill plans—approved by Congress—to make the state’s Yucca Mountain the repository for spent nuclear fuel. He was backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevadan who has made Yucca’s demise an overriding priority.

Shortly after inauguration, Messrs. Obama and Reid teamed up to elevate Gregory Jaczko to chair the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the nation’s independent regulator. Mr. Jaczko was anything but a neutral designee, having served for years on the staffs of both Mr. Reid and Massachusetts’ antinuke Rep. Edward Markey. As a Reid adviser, Mr. Jaczko headed up opposition to Yucca. The clear intent in making him chairman was to ensure Yucca’s demise.

Toward that end, the Obama Department of Energy quickly filed a formal request with the NRC to revoke the license application for Yucca. A coalition of states and industry groups—drowning in spent fuel—then petitioned to prevent the department from doing so. The issue was thrown to a panel of NRC administrative judges. Much to the administration’s frustration, they ruled unanimously in June of last year that the Energy Department lacked the authority to “singlehandedly derail” a policy that had been directed by Congress.

That didn’t stop Jaczko, however.  The administrative decision was appealed to the commissioners themselves, comprising three Democrats and two Republicans.  One Democratic commission recused himself from the vote (Strassel doesn’t explain why), and a tie vote would leave the administrative ruling in place.  The vote took place last September, and it resulted in … well, no one actually knows for sure.  Shortly after conducting the vote, Jaczko withdrew his own and stalled the appeal.

Why is this timing important?  Jaczko’s former boss, Harry Reid, had to stand for re-election in Nevada, where Reid had promised to end the Yucca Mountain repository project.  An adverse ruling would mean that the NRC would have to consider the safety report, which has been finished for some time.  What does it say?  We don’t know, because Jaczko has been using his executive authority as chair to keep the report from being published.  We can assume, however, that if the report concluded that the Yucca Mountain site would not safely contain nuclear waste, Jaczko would be the first to proclaim it from the rooftops.

Republicans in Congress then requested an investigation by the Inspector General, Hubert Bell, who reported on his findings with the ominous subject heading of “NRC Chairman’s unilateral decision to terminate NRC’s review of DoE Yucca Mountain Repository licence application,” emphasis mine.  Why unilateral?  According to the report, Jaczko kept his fellow commissioners in the dark on his activities, using the circumstances of the series of continuing resolutions to cancel all processing of the DoE’s Yucca Mountain application, using his executive budgetary authority.  Jaczko told staff that he had unanimous concurrence from his fellow commissioners in doing so, but that was not the case.  In fact, one Republican commissioner never got told about it at all, and the other Republican commissioner “strongly” objected to Jaczko’s plan when informed of it.  The two Democrats told the IG that they weren’t fully informed of the implications of Jaczko’s actions.

Furthermore, Jaczko used his executive authority to intimidate the other commissioners as well.  Specifically, Jaczko “used foreign travel as an incentive for supporting him on issues” by denying requests from commissioners who opposed him on policy.  One commissioner won’t accept invitations from host countries to speak at conference any longer because of Jaczko’s arbitrary and tardy responses to requests.  Another related to the IG that Jaczko specifically threatened to withhold foreign-travel approval if the commissioner didn’t withdraw a request for additional staff for all five commissioners.

Jaczko’s response as related by the IG is illuminating, to say the least, emphases mine:

As Chairman, he has tools that he uses to manage the agency, including the Commission, and to negotiate and get leverageOne such tool is his discretion to approve foreign travel.  It was his responsibility to decide who best represented the agency, and if he had colleagues who did not support him on votes, he was not likely to send them and represent the agency on international travel.

Jaczko told the IG that “there is nothing unethical or inappropriate about that.”  Your mileage may vary.

As you might imagine, such a man doesn’t exactly contribute to a positive working atmosphere:

Commissioner staff members told OIG of incidents they perceived as unprofessional behavior by Chairman Jaczko toward their Commissioners or members of the staff.  … Several current and former Commission staff members said the Chairman’s behavior caused an intimidating work environment.  A former Chairman told OIG that the Chairman often yelled at people and his tactics had a negative effect on people.  He described the behavior as ruling by intimidation.

It sounds as if Barack Obama appointed a wanna-be dictator rather than a chairman of a committee, who sees the NRC as his personal fiefdom and his mandate as carrying the political water of his former boss and mentor, Harry Reid.  It’s a disturbing portrait of a bureaucrat run amuck, a power-hungry bully who desperately needs exposure.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing to discuss this report on Tuesday, and its Senate counterpart will do the same on Thursday.  Jaczko is apparently scheduled to testify in both hearings.  It should make for an interesting and enlightening look into the politics of the Obama administration and the machinations of Harry Reid.