Another Friday, Another Episode of “As the Chairman of the NRC Turns”
On Friday, April 27, 2012, Congressman Fred Upton, Chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, released a letter addressed to Chairman Jaczko of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That letter, cosigned by 23 fellow US Congressmen, asked Chairman Jaczko to explain the processes that the NRC has in place to ensure NRC employees feel free to raise concerns without fear of reprisal.
The second paragraph of the letter begins with the following:
The NRC requires its licensees to maintain a culture of safety and subjects them to inspections and enforcement against a “chilled work environment.” The NRC Inspection Manual defines a “chilled work environment” as “one in which employees perceive that raising safety concerns to their employer or to the NRC is being suppressed or is discouraged and can occur because of an event, interaction, decision or policy change.” Allegation Guidance Memorandum 2012-001 provides guidance to agency staff regarding the use of “chilled effect letters” to ensure licensees are taking appropriate action to foster a safety conscious work environment (SCWE).
Near the end of the 7 page letter, you will find the following paragraph:
When we compare the examples listed above to the factors that contribute to a chilled work environment, it appears that the Commission would receive a Chilling Effect Letter if it were subjected to the same scrutiny as it imposes on its licensees. However, there doesn’t appear to be a similar procedure under which the NRC would hold itself accountable. To help us understand the implications of this situation, please respond to the following questions or request for information by May 11, 2012.
May 11 just happens to be another Friday, so the next episode of the saga will retain its position as a story that gets released just in time for the commercial press to take off for the weekend.
Most of the time, bloggers with day jobs, like yours truly, have more time during the weekend to dig into such matters and keep the discussion going. Of course, sometimes, real life gets in the way and we end up delaying our “scoop” until weekend activities have wound up. Even though this letter sat in my inbox for the past two days while I spent some quality time with my lovely wife and two year old granddaughter, it seems as if the commercial press is still unaware of its existence.
Not a single hit turned up in a Google News search with the words “Jaczko Upton” or “Jaczko Chilled” or “Upton letter to NRC”. Perhaps I am just not using the right terms?
There is not a word about the April 27 letter in an LA Times column published in the Sunday edition of that paper. Of course, I have no idea what the deadline might be for turning in a Sunday column at a major newspaper. Why is safety a divisive issue for Nuclear Regulatory Commission?. Speaking as someone who knows a bit about the professional background of the other four commissioners, I will testify that the division is not about nuclear safety; those professionals are at least as concerned about ensuring that the American public remains well protected from nuclear incidents as the Chairman is.
The real issue is a lack of technical maturity and leadership. Leaders of large, complex technical organizations cannot develop their skills by serving on Congressional or Senate staffs with fewer than a dozen people, none of whom are actually assigned to accomplish any productive or protective tasks. They have to work their way up in positions of increasing responsibility, demonstrating their talent, their knowledge, their ability to make good decisions under pressure, and their ability to manage ever larger teams of people doing ever more complex tasks.
Note: I say that as someone who served on several selection boards for far more junior positions during my Navy career. In the nuclear submarine force, we have learned that it takes at least 12-16 years to grow a commanding officer. People who run squadrons and fleets must have successfully served as commanding officers. (For the record, I never even made it to be an executive officer.)