Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko rejected Republican calls for his resignation Wednesday after the other four commission members publicly accused him of threatening NRC’s ability to act as the nation’s nuclear safety watchdog.
“If you do the right thing for your country, you will resign,” Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said at the hearing.
Jaczko repeatedly told the committee that he wanted to talk with the commissioners to better understand the “communication problems” between them, and said he apologized to Daley for the “distraction” of the dispute.
He twice insisted he has no intention of resigning. NRC commissioners are appointed for fixed terms, and Jaczko is in office till June 2013. The president can change which commissioner is chairman at any time, however.
With the four commissioners flanking him at the witness table – Kristine Svinicki and William Magwood on his right, George Apostolakis and William Ostendorff on his left – Jaczko insisted he had erred only in being “passionate” about nuclear safety issues. The other four described him as an abusive manager who screamed at, humiliated and tried to silence senior staff.
The two Democrats and two Republicans testified to the House Oversight & Investigations Committee that Jaczko had repeatedly tried to restrict their access to information, tried to suppress professional staff giving independent safety opinions, and abused professional staff members, including Executive Director for Operations William Borchardt, who he tried to fire.
Two of the commissioners who have supervised large nuclear-related organizations, Magwood and Ostendorff, said they had removed managers who had treated staff as Jaczko has.
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) also asked Borchardt whether Jaczko had exhibited behavior that created a hostile work environment. Borchardt replied, “Yes, sir.”
Issa called the hearing to follow up on a letter the four commissioners wrote in October, asking White House Chief of Staff William Daley to intervene because Jaczko’s actions were causing “serious damage” to NRC’s functioning.
Daley told Issa on December 12 he had spoken with all the commissioners and, since all of them said the agency was continuing to ensure nuclear safety, told them to work it out among themselves.
The commissioners testified that repeated attempts in the past to get Jaczko to change had been fruitless, which had led to their letter to Daley. The break point, several said, was when they learned from senior staffers that Jaczko had told them they had to support what he wanted rather than offering independent analysis, which has been the staff’s historic function.
The NRC dispute has run into the partisan polarization on Capitol Hill, because Jaczko is a protégé of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and previously worked for Representative Edward Markey (D-MA). Markey released a report on December 8 defending Jaczko and alleging that opposition to him stemmed from other commissioners’ desires to water down new safety regulations.
Asked about their motives, all four commissioners told the committee their concern was the NRC’s functioning, and things have been growing worse. Svinicki referred to Jaczko’s “continued outbursts of abusive rage.” Apostolakis said they all recognized they were taking as serious step in going to the White House, but Ostendorff said the step was “our obligation to our country.” Magwood said he was unsurprised to be subject to a “distasteful and dishonorable media campaign” for speaking up.
Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the panel, said he does not expect President Obama to remove Jaczko from the chairmanship. But Cummings added the ongoing disputes could harm nuclear safety and he felt frustrated to see the divisions. He told the commission, “I come to beg you to work this thing out.”
Issa warned Jaczko against “retaliating” against anyone who had testified, and said the committee will be watching. If the President does keep Jaczko in the job, Issa said, Jaczko will have been given “an extraordinary opportunity” to fix his leadership.
Photo Caption: Nuclear Regulatory Commission Commissioner William Ostendorff (C) testifies before the House Oversight And Government Reform Committee with NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko (L) and Commissioner George Apostolakis December 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. In October Jaczko’s fellow commissioners, including Ostendorff and Apostolakis, sent a letter White House Chief of Staff William Daley expressing “grave concerns” that Jaczko’s deficiencies as a leader could compromise nuclear safety.