By Andrew Restuccia - 12/14/11 04:30 PM EST
Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission blasted Chairman Gregory Jaczko during a congressional hearing Wednesday, accusing him of “continued outbursts of abusive rage” toward staff and withholding key information from his colleagues.
The four members of the NRC — two Democrats and two Republicans — offered a unified rebuke of Jaczko’s leadership, raising concerns that his behavior could threaten the commission’s ability to protect public health and safety.
The NRC members testified Wednesday at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. The hearing comes several days after Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released a mid-October letter from the commissioners to the White House arguing that Jaczko’s behavior is causing “serious damage” to the agency.
“One woman told me that she felt the chairman was actually irritated with someone else, but took it out on her,” Magwood said. “Another said she was angry at herself for being brought to tears in front of male colleagues. A third described how she couldn’t stop shaking after her experience. She sat, talking with her supervisor until she could calm down sufficiently to drive home.”
Commissioner Kristine Svinicki, a Republican, echoed Magwood’s concerns, describing “continued outbursts of abusive rage directed at subordinates within the agency’s staff.”
Svinicki said she was told by a senior NRC staff member that Jaczko told staff in October “to advance his agenda … at the price of having their own, independent assessments and recommendations.”
“We were pretty much instructed to leave our brains at home,” Svinicki said the commission’s executive director of operations told her.
The commissioners also accused Jaczko of withholding key information from them.
“The chairman has made a regular practice of interfering with the ability of the commission to obtain information from the NRC staff,” Magwood said. “He has asserted the authority to decide what information is provided to the commission, when it is provided and increasingly, what the information contains when it reaches the commission.”
Jaczko’s pattern of withholding information, Magwood said, “is contrary to both the letter and the intent” of a 1980 plan that reorganized the structure of the NRC to give the chairman more authority.
William Ostendorff, a Republican, said Jaczko’s behavior as chairman is unprecedented.
“With significant experience in a number of leadership positions dealing with nuclear power and nuclear weapons, I can honestly say that I have never seen an environment where the highest level of the organization does not reflect the values shared by the whole,” Ostendorff said.
Commissioner George Apostolakis, a Democrat, also raised questions about Jaczko’s leadership.
“I joined my fellow commissioners to formally express our serious concerns regarding the chairman’s leadership,” he said.
The commissioners also blasted Democrats for raising concerns about their motives in criticizing Jaczko.
“We have seen a wide range of misleading and untrue reports about our motivations, our characters and our commitment to safety,” Magwood said. “It is quite clear that this campaign is intended to divert the attention of Congress and the public from the very real concerns we have about the leadership of our agency. I don’t intend to allow this tactic to succeed.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) defended Jaczko, his former aide, Tuesday and blasted the NRC commissioners.
“[Jaczko’s] No. 1 concern during the entire time he’s been at the NRC is nuclear safety,” Reid told reporters in the Capitol. “I’m sorry to say a number of the people who work with him at the commission are not concerned about safety at all. They are concerned about the nuclear industry.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a senior Democrat and longtime critic of nuclear power, issued a report last week that blames the other four NRC commissioners for stymieing NRC efforts to boost safety after Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi disaster.
Jaczko defended his leadership Wednesday, insisting that he has never bullied staff or withheld information from commissioners.
“I believe that many of these instances that they are referring to have been misconstrued,” Jaczko said.
He added that he would work to improve communication with the commissioners.
“I’m certainly very interested in continuing the dialogue with them to determine why we are not communicating effectively,” Jaczko said.
The commissioners’ concerns come several months after NRC Inspector General Hubert Bell released a report that alleged Jaczko “controls information” provided to the other NRC commissioners by designating issues as administrative matters, which he has control over, rather than policy matters.
“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,” Bell stated in the report, which was requested by House Republicans.
But the report found that Jaczko broke no laws.
The tension on the commission comes at a key moment for the agency. Commissioners are grappling with how to implement a series of new safety standards recommended by a federal task force earlier this year in the aftermath of the Japanese nuclear disaster.
While Jaczko called for swift review and adoption of the new safety standards, several members of the commission raised concerns about the chairman’s timeline. Ultimately, after additional staff review, the commission agreed to move forward with key recommendations.
Republicans have pounced on the commissioners’s allegations in recent days.
Two top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee – Reps. Ed Whitfield (Ky.) and John Shimkus (Ill.) – have called on President Obama to fire Jaczko.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) pressured Jaczko to resign at the hearing Wednesday.
“I think you should resign,” he said. “If you’re going to do the right thing for this country and this commission, you should step down.”