NRC commissioners: Chairman Jaczko's 'bullying' has hindered agency

Wednesday - 12/14/2011, 1:47pm EST

Jaczko (third from right behind table) faces a House committee after four NRC commissioners accused him of bullying. (Photo by Emily Kopp/Federal News Radio)

By MATTHEW DALY
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Four of the five members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Wednesday that "bullying and intimidation" by the panel chairman have damaged the commission's effectiveness.

The commissioners — two Democrats and two Republicans — said that NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, a Democrat, is responsible for an increasingly tense and unsettled work environment at the NRC. The four commissioners sent a letter to the White House in October expressing "grave concern" about Jaczko' s actions.

Commissioner William Ostendorff, a Republican, told a House oversight committee that the letter was not politically motivated, as some lawmakers have said.

Ostendorff, seated next to Jaczko, said the real issue is Jaczko's "bullying and intimidation" of NRC staffers and even some commissioners, which Ostendorff said "should not and cannot be tolerated."

Jaczko denied he has bullied employees, although he conceded he did have a heated conversation with a senior NRC manager about the agency's response to the nuclear crisis in Japan last spring.

"I have not bullied employees," Jaczko said.

Jaczko conceded that he has had heated conversations with fellow commissioners, but denied he was trying to intimidate or bully anyone, as all four commissioners have alleged. Numerous NRC staffers also have complained that Jaczko's style has made them uncomfortable.

Jaczko said he was "a very passionate person about safety," adding, "I often engaged my colleagues in discussions about safety and that's been my style."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said Jaczko should resign.

"You're telling me they are all wrong and you are right," he told Jaczko. "That to me is a lack of leadership."

In their Oct. 13 letter to White House Chief of Staff William Daley, the four NRC commissioners said they had "grave concerns" about Jaczko and said his bullying style is creating a "chilled work environment at the NRC."

The letter stopped short of calling for the chairman to resign, but said Jaczko's actions could adversely affect the agency's mission to protect health and safety at the nation's 104 commercial nuclear reactors.

Among other claims, the letter says Jaczko "intimidated and bullied" senior career staff, ordered staff to withhold information and ignored the will of the panel's majority. The letter was signed by Democrats William Magwood and George Apostolakis, as well as Republicans Ostendorff and Kristine Svinicki.

Jaczko, in a detailed response also sent to the White House, said problems at the agency were not his fault but instead stem from "lack of understanding" on the part of the other four commissioners.

Daley said this week that the dispute has not impaired the panel's work or jeopardized safety at the nation's nuclear power plants.

Daley said problems stem from the commission's "strong chairman" structure, in which the leader of the five-member panel has far greater powers than the remaining four commissioners.

In a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Daley downplayed tension at the NRC and said commissioners have agreed to meet with a "trusted third party" to promote a better dialogue.

On Tuesday, Issa released a scathing report that said Jaczko has a "my way or the highway" style and routinely oversteps his authority and undermines and intimidates his colleagues.

"The NRC has survived thus far, but the cracks are forming and all symptoms point to catastrophe," the report said.

Democrats on the oversight panel released their own report Tuesday saying that extensive interviews with commission members and staff "uncovered no violations of law or instances in which the safety of U.S. nuclear facilities has been placed in jeopardy."

The Democrats said their investigation "has revealed a tense and challenging work environment, however, that appears to have been caused primarily by fundamental disagreements about the statutory structure of the NRC and significant policy disputes among its commissioners."

__

Follow Matthew Daly's energy coverage at http://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC

(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Track tweets about the hearing below: