White House: Nuke commission infighting won't jeopardize nuclear safety

Newly revealed tensions among members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will not prevent the agency from adequately protecting public health and safety, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said Monday.

Daley responded Monday to a mid-October letter to the White House from NRC commissioners attacking Chairman Gregory Jaczko’s leadership, arguing his “erratic” behavior could prevent the agency from properly overseeing the country’s 104 nuclear reactors.

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But Daley, noting he met with NRC members after receiving the letter, insisted the commissioners' concerns have not prevented NRC from carrying out its mission. 

“Based on our meetings, we have concluded that while there are tensions and disagreements among the Commissioners, these management differences have not impaired the Commission’s ability to fulfill its missions,” Daley wrote in a letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who released the Oct. 13 letter from the commissioners on Friday.

“Indeed, the Chairman, the Commissioners and the [NRC’s executive director of operations] have all expressed their strong commitment to fulfilling the agency’s mission and to upholding the institution’s values, and the White House has confidence in their ability to do so.”

Daley pointed to a June 2011 report by the NRC’s inspector general that found Jaczko did not break any laws in making various decisions on the commission, despite disagreements among the commissioners.

While the report cleared Jaczko of breaking the law, it alleged that he “controls information” provided to the other NRC commissioners.

“Because he acts as the gatekeeper to determine what is a policy matter versus what is an administrative matter and controls information available to the other commissioners, they are uncertain as to whether they are adequately informed of policy matters that should be brought to their attention,” the report, which was requested by House Republicans, says.

Daley revealed in the letter that the concerns raised by the commissioners will be investigated by the NRC’s inspector general.

“We believe and presume you agree that the Office of the Inspector General is appropriate forum for a thorough review of the agency’s governing structure and for the development of any recommendations to improve it.”

Daley also declined Issa’s request to provide a White House witness at a hearing he is holding Wednesday on Jaczko’s leadership at the commission.

Issa criticized the White House Monday night for not providing a witness.

“With four bipartisan commissioners raising deeply troubling concerns about abuse and mismanagement at the NRC, it's hard to reach any other conclusion than the White House is in denial about the severity of the situation at the NRC," Issa said in a statement.

In a separate letter Monday to Jaczko and the four members of the commission, Daley echoed his comments to Issa.

“While I recognize that there are tensions and disagreements among the Commissioners, each of you made it clear in your conversations with me that these management differences have not impaired the Commission’s ability to fulfill its mission or in any way jeopardized the safety and security of nuclear facilities in the United States,” he said.

Daley said that Jaczko “has committed to improve communications amongst you, including by keeping fellow Commissioners better informed.”

He added that he intends to “continue to monitor the situation,” including the results of the inspector general report into the commissioners’ concerns.

Daley’s comments come three days after Issa released the commissioners’ letter to the White House. The letter is a powerful rebuke of Jaczko’s leadership by his colleagues, including two fellow Democrats.

“We believe that his actions and behavior are causing serious damage to this institution and are creating a chilled work environment at the NRC,” NRC commissioners Kristine L. Svinicki, George Apostolakis, William D. Magwood IV and William C. Ostendorff say in the letter.

“We are concerned that this will adversely affect the NRC’s central mission to protect the health, safety and security of the American people,” it continues. Issa released the letter Friday ahead of this week's hearing with NRC members.
 
Svinicki and Ostendorff are Republicans; Magwood and Apostolakis are Democrats.

Jaczko defended his leadership on the commission in a Dec. 7 letter to Daley released Friday by the NRC.

He acknowledged that there are often major policy disagreements on the commission, adding that he believes the commission “has taken an approach that is not as protective of public health and safety as I believe is necessary.” But he said he respects their right to disagree.

“I follow the law, I respect the policy duly established by the Commission even if I disagree with it, and I faithfully executive Commission policy as I oversee the staff of the agency,” he said.

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