Imagine if all the tension and bickering and dirty laundry from your office ended up spilling out into the open and into the halls of Congress. For one federal agency, that will happen on Wednesday.
The chairman and commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are scheduled to appear together at a House hearing to discuss long-simmering disagreements and tensions that earned the attention of the White House and one of its sharpest Republican critics.
At issue is the behavior of NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko, who is accused in a new report of intimidating staffers, rebuffing fellow commissioners and adopting a “my way or the highway” style of leadership that threatens to undermine the agency.
The report, prepared by aides to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), details several instances when Jaczko attempted to sway career staffers or intimidate fellow commissioners on how to vote on policy matters, including a decision to end a review of plans to open a nuclear waste facility at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.
The investigation “found that the dysfunction created by this situation is having a corrosive effect on the NRC’s ability to remain focused on its important work,” the report said. “Thus far, the staff’s commitment to uphold the NRC’s values and reputation has prevented the agency from reaching a point that compromises safety. But the current situation is not sustainable and Chairman Jaczko continues to make it worse.”
Jaczko and the four commissioners, who are scheduled to testify before Issa’s committee Wednesday morning, declined interview requests Tuesday.
The report’s release came after White House officials declined late Monday to provide a witness for the hearing to explain how White House Chief of Staff William Daley learned of the disagreements.
In a written response to Issa, Daley said he met individually with each NRC commissioner — two Democrats and two Republicans — after they alerted him to their concerns in mid-October. In a separate meeting with Jaczko, Daley said the chairman apologized for allowing the disagreements to be revealed publicly and vowed to meet with the commissioners to resolve disagreements.
In his letter, Daley said the disagreements at NRC focused on “organizational issues” and were consistent with previous disagreements between past commissioners.
But Issa said the White House was handling the dispute improperly. “The commission and its career staff are facing a crisis,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “Downplaying these serious problems won’t resolve them.”
According to Issa’s 62-page report, Jaczko pressured staff members to support his policy positions in order to sway fellow commissioners, acted aggressively and threatened or intimidated colleagues in ways that prevented “constructive discussion” of policy issues, and tried to influence the votes of fellow Democratic commissioners.
In one case, e-mails show that aides to Jaczko urged aides to Commissioner William D. Magwood, a Democratic appointee, that voting to continue a safety review of the Yucca Mountain project might be viewed as a lack of support for the Obama administration, which wanted to kill the project.
At a July meeting to discuss new safety recommendations for U.S. nuclear plants following the Japanese tsunami and nuclear meltdown in March, the report said Jaczko became angry when commissioners told him they wouldn’t support his proposals.
“The chairman gaveled down a fellow commissioner in mid-sentence, stormed out of the meeting with his colleagues and released his plan to the public that afternoon during a scheduled appearance at the National Press Club,” the report said.
Committee investigators said they reviewed more than 25,000 documents and interviewed 15 agency officials over the course of their months-long investigation.
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