Saturday, June 23, 2012

More Markey Malarkey?

As you know, Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) is no friend of the NRC and has a record of complaining about NRC management practices and errors, retaliation against NRC employees who disagree with their managers, the other Commissioners outvoting outgoing Chairman Jazcko on post-Fukushima proposals,* etc. 

As a consequence, a new NRC-related emission from the Congressman’s office is of little interest to us.  However, his June 4, 2012 letter to Chairman Jazcko** got our attention.  While it recaps and supposedly updates prior complaints about the conduct of NRC managers and retaliation against employees, it also adds a couple of new items: (1) a claim that NRC employees don’t trust the NRC Inspector General (IG) to fairly investigate the issues previously raised and (2) a call for an independent investigation of the NRC’s safety culture (SC). 

I have not yet seen any NRC response to the Markey letter but it’s interesting to speculate how this might this play out.

It would not surprise me if the NRC develops a two-pronged approach: (1) show support for their IG by assigning specific instances of alleged misconduct to the IG office for investigation and (2) create some sort of broader (agency-wide) initiative to reinforce SC policy and traits.  Expect a lot of parsing, posturing and pronouncements, some retraining, and perhaps a reprimanded manager.  It may also present an opportunity for incoming Chairman Macfarlane to articulate her understanding of and expectations for SC. 

Unfortunately, what you won’t see is an in-depth analysis of either the professional decision-making system that allows internal controversies to simmer until they boil over, or the real (as opposed to nominal) management reward system that encourages an agency middle manager to act in such an unprofessional manner (if indeed anyone did).  Who would risk his career by downgrading findings and/or retaliating against subordinates unless there was some considerable agency or personal pressure to do so?  But it’s not unthinkable.  An earlier Markey letter, citing information received from NRC staff, points to an item in the regional plan, “which apparently awards Senior Executive Service bonuses in a manner that scales inversely with the number of enforcement actions that are challenged and overturned by licensees.”***  Is this a smoking gun or just someone blowing smoke?  

*  Jaczko served as a Congressional Science Fellow in Rep. Markey’s office so the Congressman is likely complaining about the other Commissioners picking on his guy.

**  Letter E.J. Markey to G. Jaczko Re: Region IV follow-up (June 4, 2012).

***  Letter E.J. Markey to G. Jaczko Re: Texas Headquarters (May 9, 2012).

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