NRC chief says resignation unrelated to bullying claims

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko insisted Monday that his decision to step down had nothing to do with allegations that he bullied staff at the agency.

“The timing was right. It was just a feeling that now was the right time to make the announcement,” Jaczko told The Hill, adding that he made his decision within the “last couple of days.”

Jaczko, a Democrat, said persistent criticism of his tenure as chairman from his colleagues on the commission and Republicans in Congress did not influence his decision.

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“I really haven’t let that affect what I do,” he said in a phone interview. “The thing that I’ve always been guided by is what I think is in the best interest of the American people.”

The NRC chairman announced earlier Monday that he plans to step down. But he said he will remain head of the agency until the Senate confirms his replacement. The White House said Monday that President Obama hopes to nominate somebody “soon.”

“I’ll let that process play out and if that takes a few months or a month, then that’s fine with me,” Jaczko said of the Senate confirmation process.

Jaczko declined to say what he plans to do once he leaves the NRC.

"I don’t have any specific ideas in mind at this point," he said, adding, "I want to make sure that I continue to focus on my day job."

The decision to step down comes as the NRC’s inspector general is preparing a report that examines allegations that the chairman bullied or intimidated staff. Jaczko said he has not seen the inspector general report and added that he has “no sense” of when it might be released.

The chairman defended his tenure on the commission.

“I have always done my job with the intention of doing what I think is right for nuclear safety,” he said, adding that he “can be a demanding and passionate boss.”

“If that’s ever been misinterpreted by anybody…I would want to know and address those issues accordingly,” he said.

Jaczko, a physicist and former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), was nominated to the commission by President George W. Bush in 2005. President Obama nominated him as chairman in 2009.

He has clashed with his fellow commissioners publicly on a number of occasions in recent months.

The four other NRC commissioners, two Democrats and two Republicans, wrote a letter to the White House last year alleging that Jaczko was causing “serious damage” to the agency that could harm the body’s ability to protect health and safety.

The letter was released publicly shortly after an NRC inspector general report exposed major tensions within the agency. The report quoted anonymous NRC staffers who alleged that Jaczko created a tense atmosphere at the agency and, in some instances, berated employees.