FIRST THEY WERE asking: Did you quit or were you fired? Now it's: Did you disband or were you dissolved? Here is what actually happened at the President's Commission on Three Mile Island last week.
The commission assembled two advisory groups, one made up of industry representatives and one of citizen's groups (most strongly anti-nuclear). The two groups were asked for their ansers to nine questions that explored broad attitudes toward nuclear power. The commission felt these views would be useful in setting the context for its final report to the president.
The industry group accpeted with pleasure. The citizenhs (for want of a better word) group, ignoring the commission's request, submitted a memo outlining a somewhat different role for itself. All they wanted, they said, was: access to all material submitted to or subpoenaed by the commission; access to the commission's technical staff; copies of all work plans and staff memos dealing with the direction of the investigation. Also: the opportunity to review the lists of hired consultants and witnesses and to recommend changes; access to depositions and the right to suggest further lines of inquiry; the right to review (and presumably do a critique of) the commissionhs final report before it is sent to the president. But, wait - there is more: The group also wished to have its own technical advisers, named by themselves and paid for by the commission.
All they were asking, in short, was to be constituted as a super-commission, charged (by self-appointment) not with investigating Three Mile Island, but with invesigating the president's commission. The commission's response was just right: Thank you, anyway, they said. But this is not precisely what we had in mind. Nevertheless, we'd still like your answers to our questions.
Openness in government is one thing, but if that is sunshine, this group's behavior looks like a case of sunstroke. They may be correct in harboring a certain skepticism about the ability of any blue-ribbon commission to do a good job, but the time to make that judgement is after the commission finishes its work and submits its public report. It's hard enough for 12 strangers to collect and organize a competent staff and then perform a complex investigation all within six months, without being besieged by a horde of second -guessers.
The so-called public-interest groups labor long and hard in pursuit of the things they believe in, and no one can deny their contributions to dozens of important laws. But this was arrogance, a self-righteous sense of mission gone amok. CAPTION: Picture, no caption