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I find the allegations that some of the management at the NRC
participated in harassing employees -- who by all appearances were trying to do their job of making sure that power plants are as safe as possible -- very disturbing. Such employees should be
encouraged and rewarded, not intimidated, transferred, and threatened.
I found the allegations that the safety standards may not be as strong as they should be disturbing. I am concerned that the NRC has chosen to opt for unenforceable guidelines to cover drug and alcohol abuse at nuclear power plants -- apparently conceding to the wishes of industry. I am concerned that the NRC has chosen to interpret its fire regulations in a manner which appears to favor industry wishes, not public safety concerns.
The NRC has a critical -- indeed an essential -- regulatory function. The NRC should be the watchdog and the policeman of the nuclear industry. Yet, what we have before us suggests that the agency may be too friendly with the industry it is supposed to be watching.
Mr. Chairman, I think this hearing is extremely important. I hope that our questions and concerns can be answered. I encourage you to continue to pursue your oversight of this agency -- its work is critically important to all of us. It may be, as we explore the issues the testimony raises in greater depth, some legislative remedies will be required. I will be more than willing to work with you, should this prove to be the case.
Mr. GEJDENSON. Mr. Hansen, an opening statement? Mr. HANSEN. No, I have no opening statement, Mr. Chairman. Thank you. Mr. GEJDENSON. Mr. DeFazio. Mr. DEFAzio. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I, too, commend the chairman for holding these very important hearings and look forward to the result. I don't come in with my mind made up, but I have to say that I would like to hear a strong case presented by the Commission to refute the prejudice or whatever that I have obtained through the press and past study of the Commission, which is that they are more of an advocate for the industry than they are the public watchdog, enforcing the highest possible standards. I think that leaning in the direction of advocacy is a grave error, and as Congressman Miller observed, that it has undermined faith in the industry because we are dealing with forces here that absolutely have to be safely contained, and can be, and have successfully been for the most part in the United States. But I think when you step over the line and we question the safety because the agency charged with enforcing the highest possible standards actually, at times, has appeared to be more of an advocate than the watchdog, it undermines the public faith and confidence and it moves us in a direction that does not accomplish the purposes of safe generation of electricity. So I look forward to the hearings and hope that I can be persuaded that indeed the agency is striving or has achieved that end. Mr. GEJDENSON. Thank you. I had all the committee members write in the commendations of the chairman. I thank you for reading those. Commissioner Zech, if you would start.
PANEL FROM THE U.S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION CONSISTING OF HON. LANDO W. ZECH, JR., CHAIRMAN; COMMISSIONERS FREDERICK M. BERNTHAL, JAMES K. ASSELSTINE, KENNETH M. CARR, AND THOMAS M. ROBERTS
Mr. ZECH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, my fellow Commissioners and I are pleased to appear before you today to discuss the effectiveness and performance of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Office of Inspector and Auditor, which I will refer to as OIA, and the Office of Investigations, OI. With your permission, I would like to submit my full statement for the record and summarize its principal points. Mr. GEJDENSON. Without objection. Mr. ZECH. Thank you, sir. The Office of Inspector and Auditor has existed at the NRC since the agency commenced operations in 1975. It has two primary responsibilities: (1) to audit NRC operations to ensure that agency activities are conducted effectively, efficiently and with integrity; and (2) to investigate alleged wrongdoing by NRC employees and contractors. The OIA Director reports directly to the Commission. For the past 12 years, this office has competently performed these essential functions. OIA develops its own audit program after receiving recommendations from the Commission and the Executive Director for Operations, the EDO. It has the authority to set its own priorities, conduct its audits and investigations, and prepare its recommendations for presentation to the Commission. The Office of Investigations has entirely different responsibilities. This is OI. Its mission is to investigate wrongdoing by licensees or others in the regulated industry, to assist the Commission in making licensing enforcement decisions. Until about 5 years ago, the Commission had no special office charged with investigating such wrongdoing. For a variety of reasons, the Commission in 1982 created OI, staffed by trained investigators. If OI investigations also indicate the possibility of criminal misconduct, OI makes appropriate referrals to the Department of Justice. It must be emphasized, however, that the primary purpose of establishing OI was to assist in staff determinations and Commission decisions, rather than to pursue criminal investigations. Like OIA, OI is a Commission-level office. It develops investigatory strategy, obtains evidence through interviews with witnesses and review of documents, and drafts its reports and conclusions for presentation to the Commission or NRC office that requested the investigation. Priorities of OI investigations are now based on generic criteria tied to the potential safety significance of the alleged wrongdoing. The Office of Investigations must work closely with NRC technical staff. When technical expertise is needed, the EDO assigns the necessary individuals to help OI conduct its investigations. If the technical staff becomes aware of information relevant to an ongoing OI investigation, it is required to communicate that information to OI. In turn, OI keeps NRC offices which request OI investigations informed of significant developments in ongoing investigations. Similarly, if either OI or OIA obtains information that would be of assistance to the other office in carrying out ongoing investigations, it communicates the necessary information. Your letter of invitation also solicited comment on the need for a statutory NRC Inspector General and for a statutorily-established independent Office of Investigations. Legislative proposals to establish an Inspector General within the NRC would have varying effects on the mission of OIA as it currently exists. The principal change, however, would be to make the OIA Director, or Inspector General as it would become, subject to appointment and removal by the President rather than the Commission. This may appear to be a small change, but it is a change which merits some reflection before the Congress acts to extend for the first time what may be a perfectly sound concept within the confines of the executive branch to the somewhat different environment of a small independent regulatory commission like the NRC. We have not one, but five, independent officials acting jointly to manage the agency and to act in the public interest. We ourselves are presidentially appointed and confirmed by the Senate. Our licensing processes operate in an open and highly-charged environment. Under the circumstances, it is difficult for us to see how providing the Commission with an Inspector General subject to presidential appointment and removal would better assure effectiveness, efficiency and integrity in the NRC's operations. The Commission is particularly troubled by language in legislative proposals to establish an independent Office of Investigations which would prevent the Commission from having a role in the initiation, carrying out, or completion of any investigation by OI. In evaluating the Commission position on this matter, it is important to understand the relationship of OI activities to the fundamental health and safety mission of the NRC. Each year, the NRC receives information regarding hundreds of acts of potential licensee wrongdoings. Some of the allegations are supported by substantial evidence and, if proven, could have a direct bearing on a licensee's ability to operate a facility in conformance with our regulations. Other allegations on their face may appear to be frivolous or, even if proven, would have little or no bearing on the public health and safety. The NRC has limited resources and it is unlikely it will ever be in a position to fully and completely investigate all allegations. That is true of both allegations OI investigates and those our technical staff review. The criteria for determining priorities used by the NRC give the highest priority for those investigations having the greatest bearing on the public health and safety for pending Commission licensing decisions. Currently, the Commission has the authority to set priorities for the Office of Investigations. Pending legislation would, in effect, remove that authority from the Commission. Although under the legislative proposals, the Commission could continue to make recommendations to OI on the priority and initiation of investigations, OI would not be required to adopt those recommendations. We believe that this could have an adverse effect on the public health and safety because OI does not have the technical expertise to set priorities based on public health and safety considerations. That expertise rests with the Commission and the NRC staff. Moreover, if the Commission loses control over OI priorities, investigations that must be completed before licensing or enforcement decisions are made might not be completed in a time frame that is compatible with the Commission's decision making needs. For these reasons, the Commission strongly opposes legislation which would give OI additional independence. This same reasoning leads us to conclude unanimously that OI should not be made a part of the Inspector General's Office, if such an office is established. Despite the need for the Commission to establish priorities for OI, that office now has and must continue to have the independence to determine how specific investigations should be conducted, and OI must free to draw its own conclusions based on the information developed in its investigations, without interference from the Commission, the NRC staff, or others. Finally, let me comment briefly on two other topics identified in your letter of invitation: the status of the Investigation Referral Board, IRB, and allegations of inappropriate contact between licensees and NRC personnel.
With the concurrence of the Commission, the EDO, the Executive Director for Operations, established the IRB for a 6-month trial period in November 1986 as a management tool to ensure that the matters being referred by the NRC staff to OI for investigation and the priorities being established were appropriate. The IRB was comprised of senior representatives from five major NRC offices. It met every 2 weeks. The 6-month trial period for the IRB has now ended. The Commission is currently reviewing the matter and will provide the subcommittee with results of its review after we reach a decision. The Commission is concerned that there have been allegations of inappropriate contact between licensees and NRC personnel. The Commission has long recognized that a prerequisite for public confidence in the NRC's regulatory decisions is integrity in its decision making process. To this end, the agency has long operated under ex parte and separation of function rules that are more stringent than those required by law and more restrictive than those adopted by most Federal Agencies. Throughout the years, these rules have been scrupulously observed by the Commission and its staff. In fact, many have criticized the Commission rules, stating that the rules should be modified to allow greater communication between the NRC staff and the Commission, so that the Commission will have greater access to necessary technical expertise. The Commission has proposed revisions to its regulations which will give it greater access to the NRC staff. The Commission's ex parte rules do not limit communications between the NRC staff under the EDO and licensees. While mindful of their roles as regulators, the staff must be able to freely communicate with the regulated to assure the Commission has the adequate information for decisionmaking and to be sure that licensees understand our requirements. The subcommittee has asked the Commission to address three other topics: (1) Commissioner Roberts' involvement in the dissemination and destruction of documents regarding the Waterford Nuclear Powerplant; (2) the interaction between Steven White of TVA and Victor Stello, the Commission's Executive Director for Operations; and (3) the inspection and investigation of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Powerplant. We cannot provide our views on those matters at this time. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia is now examining issues concerning the provision of internal documents to the Waterford licensee and has asked the Commission not to investigate the matter at this time. During the pendency of the Department of Justice investigation, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on this matter. With respect to the other two matters, the Commission is in the process of appointing an outside independent investigator to investigate those matters and produce a report for Commission consideration. Until these investigations have been completed, it would be premature to provide further comment on these matters. Mr. Chairman, I would like to add just a few personal observations to your opening statement and those of some of your colleagues, if I may, before I conclude my oral statement.