By Andrew Restuccia - 12/13/11 08:34 PM EST
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) escalated his criticism of Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, arguing in a new report that he is driving the agency toward “catastrophe.”
The report, which was written by Republican committee staff and released Tuesday, alleges that Jaczko is overstepping his authority as head of the commission and undermining his colleagues.
“The current Chairman, through his blatant disregard for the Commission and its core beliefs, is testing this resolve,” the report says. “The NRC has survived thus far but the cracks are forming and all symptoms point to catastrophe.”
The report comes several days after Issa released a mid-October letter from the NRC commissioners to the White House that alleges that Jaczko is causing “serious damage” to the agency that could harm the body’s ability to protect health and safety.
The Oct. 13 letter to White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley is a powerful rebuke of Jaczko’s leadership by his colleagues, including two Democrats.
Issa released the staff report in advance of a hearing Wednesday with members of the NRC during which Republicans are expected to pummel Jaczko over his leadership of the agency.
The report calls for “swift, decisive action ... to restore the integrity of
the NRC, its values, and commitment to its core mission — public health
“The leadership of Chairman Gregory Jaczko has undermined Commissioners, staff, and the public confidence that the NRC can continue to remain focused on its vital mission,” the report says.
The report paints Jaczko as a defiant leader who is “centralizing power within his office, limiting the role of the other four commissioners and exerting greater control over the NRC staff.”
Among other things, the report accuses Jaczko of intimidating his colleagues, withholding information from the NRC commissioners and pressuring staff to support his policy positions.
The allegations echo issues raised in a June report conducted by NRC Inspector General Hubert Bell.
The report, which found that Jaczko broke no laws, said the chairman “controls information” provided to the other NRC commissioners. It also raised questions about Jaczko’s handling of the decision to stop work on a multipart evaluation of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in light of the Obama administration’s decision to abandon the long-delayed project.
Jaczko defended his leadership on the commission in a Dec. 7 letter to the White House 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 execute Commission policy as I oversee the staff of the agency,” he said.
Jaczko argued that the commissioners have a “lack of understanding” of their statutory responsibilities. They are responsible for “policymaking, rulemaking and adjudications,” while the chairman is in charge of “all other functions.”
The commissioners are raising concerns about management decisions that are in the chairman’s purview, Jaczko said in the letter.
Daley, in a letter to Issa Monday, said tensions among members of the NRC will not prevent the agency from adequately protecting public health and safety. Daley noted that he met with NRC members and staff after receiving the commissioners’ October letter.
“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 said in the letter.
Also, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) came to the defense of Jaczko, his former aide, Tuesday afternoon.
"His number one concern during the entire time he's been at the NRC is nuclear safety,” Reid told reporters.
"I'm sorry to say a number of the people who work with him at the commission are not concerned about safety at all,” he continued. “They are concerned about the nuclear industry."
But Republicans have slammed Jaczko over the letter in recent days. Two top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee – Reps. John Shimkus (Ill.) and Ed Whitfield (Ky.) – have called on President Obama to fire Jaczko.