Jaczko hearings a depressing example of partisan power politics
I am a deeply disappointed supporter of many Democratic platform planks who strongly believes in protecting the environment, building a strong educational system that is freely available to all comers, enabling workers to earn a decent wage for their hard work, increasing the number of jobs available to all residents of the United States, building a clean energy based infrastructure, and reducing the cost of higher education for the people who need it the most.
However, after watching the Democratic Party-led hearing by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee titled “Review of the NRC’s Near-Term Task Force Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century”, I am sick to my stomach. It makes no sense to me to have someone like Barbara Boxer berate four dedicated public servants, 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans, while she is fawning over Greg Jaczko, a political operative who berates and intimidates his colleagues and staff. I know that Jaczko has two powerful political patrons who happen to be Democrats. I also understand that Jaczko’s definition of nuclear safety – that it is impossible to spend enough money to be “safe enough” – is the official position of many Democratic Party members.
However, that is no reason to accuse four patriotic Americans of essentially lying after they testified – under oath – that Greg Jaczko is too intemperate and too agenda driven to be left in charge of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission without agreeing to a major change in attitude and behavior.
Jaczko’s repeated denials during two days of testimony under oath do not provide me any confidence that he will change his behavior, especially after having been provided such a strong show of support by the party that temporarily occupies both the White House and the majority of the seats in the Senate. He does not think he has done anything wrong and continued to assert until the very end of the second day of hearings that he is proud of his leadership at the NRC.
Yesterday, I promised to share another clip or two from the House Oversight Committee hearing titled “The Leadership of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.” In the following clip, Congressman Issa gives each of the four commissioners who signed a letter to the White House Chief of Staff complaining about the behavior of Chairman Jaczko a chance to describe their commitment to nuclear safety.
It should be clear that each of those individuals have a embedded sense of responsibility and that they care deeply about protecting the public. Jaczko’s continued protestation that the whole source of the conflict is that he cares more about nuclear safety than they do is falling on my deaf ears. He has an agenda, he has powerful political patrons, and he is an unrepentant bully. It would restore a little of my support for the self-described party of the people if more of them recognized that continuing to protect “their man” against his own demonstrated bad behavior is bad for both the country and for their political future.
In the below clip, Senator Bernie Sanders develops a line of questioning that indicates to me that the politicians on the podium are living in a strange bubble where powerful people misbehave and berate subordinates and then excuse that bad behavior as something that is normal. They see nothing wrong with aggressive behavior as long as it reflects their strong desire to defend a political position. They are so insensitive that they do not even recognize how negatively yelling and screaming can affect their subordinates.
During the previous day’s House hearing, Congressman Issa read a short phrase that I immediately recognized as the definition of “harassment” that I had learned during repeated annual training sessions as a federal employee. Issa did not reveal the source of the phrase he read, but he asked each of the four commissioners if his words applied to the way that Chairman Jaczko has been known to run his agency. The vote was unanimous – all of them said that the words Issa read applied to Jaczko’s behavior.
I guess it is one more example of how elected officials in Congress do not apply the same rules or laws to themselves as they do to the rest of the federal government or the American population.
If your beliefs are giving you results you don’t like, then it’s your belief system that is screwed up. Want to get rid of Jackzo? Then vote Republican. True, I don’t much like Romney or Gingrich, the two front runners, and while you like Ron Paul, he’s way too flaky to be President. I do like Rick Perry because of his Christian principles, but he continually flubs when he speaks. Rick Santorum, a devout Roman Catholic would be perfect but doesn’t have much of a chance, and Michele Bachman, though I personally like her, isn’t ready yet. So, I will hold my nose and vote for either Romney or Gingrich because I know that another four years of Obama will destroy this country. Jackzo is but one of many examples.
Democracy: two wolves and one sheep voting on what’s for dinner.
Republic: rule of law where the individual right to life cannot be subordinated to a 50.0001% majority.
How many wars will your Republican candidates start while in office? Except for Ron Paul, the answer is greater than zero. How much American blood will be spilled not in self-defense of America, but in prevention of possible
Anyone who talks about the right to life but votes for warmongerers is a hypocrite; anyone who talks about being a Catholic, and supports the death penalty and warmongerers is in fundamental error; there is a certain technical term to describe those in flagrant, knowing error, starting with “h”. Shall we should discuss that here, Ioannes?
And if you think any of the Republicans with the exception of Ron Paul will do anything substantial about abortion – it isn’t politically possible at the Federal level – if you’re pro-life, the most you can really hope to do is return it to the states and hope they make a decision in line with their values – you’re kidding yourself.
Besides, how many Republicans have made any effort to make unwanted children wanted? How many of them have tried to generously support unwed mothers using state resources? How many of them have funded orphanages? I don’t think you’ll find too many of them, Ioannes. They say “If you can’t feed ’em, don’t breed’em.”
Bottom line. The Republicans talk a good game about Christianity but are anti-Christian in their policies. To them, inalienable rights begin
Michele and Marcus Bachmann have personally taken in 23 foster children. How many have you taken in?
I’m not a fan of Michele Bachmann, but this kind of knee-jerk reaction from self-proclaimed Democrats is tiresome.
Ioannes is a bore. Why are you so eager to join him?
To them, inalienable rights begin at conception and end at live birth.
(Disclaimer: I do not identify as a Christian and support neither side of the abortion debate. I am merely pointing out how Republican policies and Christian doctrine are in conflict.)
Rod, It may be disappointing to see an example of knee-jerk support by Democrats of ‘their’ man (I share your anger at Boxer’s et. al.’s comments), but what can you expect after 3 years of absolute, complete, and total obstructionism on the part of the Republican Party. This is not a symmetric situation. The behavior of the GOP (even opposing their own previous positions if it will ‘harm’ President Obama) is not something I’ve seen before. I’m not quite old enough to remember McCarthy, but …
I agree with SteveK. I simply would never vote for a guy that thinks we ought to dispense with Child Labor Laws, one of the first laws ever passed that brought the US into the community of ‘civilized nations’ (Newt G.). There are so many other issues that would prevent me from voting for any of the Republicans, all of whom want continue the tax giveaways to their rich buddies (OK, the exception is Ron Paul on that one).
All the candidates are, in my opinion, and this includes Obama, simply part of the game to race to the bottom so we can be ‘competitive’. In other words, we SHOULD be like Guatemala: no public health care, no support for education, no unions, minimal wages and a huge oligarchy running anything.
For nuclear energy, as I’ve advocated since knowing you Rod, it is the *removal* of nuclear from partisan bickering that is key. This means changing the minds of the biggest block on this issues: liberal Democrats and Democrats (and a large number of un-influential republican voters as well).
The idea is to change their minds, not change their spokespersons, like Markey, Boxer, etc. Until we get a sea-change shift in thinking about energy, we can yell and scream at this or that party at will, it will mean nothing. We saw that with Bush who did the minimal for nuclear (and actually Obama has spoken out in favor of it far more than Bush ever did).
If Ron Paul were president, there would never be any nuclear energy. Period. There would be no financing, no loan guarantees and R&D would fall to the floor, after all he believes it should all be “privatized”.
Don’t fall for the magician’s trick. Watch the hands, not the mouth.
Bush did more to reverse the fortunes of nuclear power in the US in his first nine months than Obama has done in his entire term, thus far.
Without Bush, there would have been no Nuclear Power 2010 program, no Next Generation Nuclear Plant program, no Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative program, no license submitted for the Yucca Mountain repository, etc. Do you really think that any of these programs would have been instituted in a Gore administration?
What has Obama done other than ensure that the license submitted by the DOE for Yucca Mountain will never be considered?
Oh … yeah … he appointed Jaczko as Chairman of the NRC.
Brian – all of the programs you listed were initiated, but the fact remains that not a single plant was started and not one loan guarantee was issued. Talking about programs and starting new ones – often with the exact same budget lines renamed, does not change the reality of our energy market. When there are plants being build and market share being won, I will believe that a leader is “pro-nuclear”.
Until then, a pox on both of their houses.
Rod – Not all programs are successful. And if you’ve ever dealt with the Department of Energy, you should have some good understanding of why they are not successful.
The big failure, in my opinion, is that the DOE tends to think of itself as a work program for employees of the National Labs rather than any kind of real incubator for new technology. That’s not to say that the DOE does a bad job when it comes to scientific research. Many of the pure and applied research products produced by the DOE are quite good and definitely world class.
Nevertheless, when it comes to innovation, the DOE has all of the speed, efficiency, and friendliness of the DMV. NASA also suffers from this disease, sucking administrativitis.
A real, bold leader would eliminate Jimmy Carter’s Department of Energy altogether, perhaps shifting the scientific parts to under the NSF, transferring the weapons-related parts to under the DOD, and creating some new entity that can spur innovation in technology without all of the distractions that the DOE has (oh … and dumping all of that “renewable” energy crap as well; let Google pay for it).
Getting back to the point, however, if you look at the administrations that have been in power since the new, streamlined licensing rules for new nuclear plants (10CFR52) were developed — Clinton, Bush, and Obama — the contrast could not be more stark.
In both the Clinton and Obama administrations, the situation has deteriorated. The Bush years were the only bright spot in recent history. Just because things were not perfect, that does not mean that nothing was accomplished.
Regardless of who is elected next year, I hope that things will improve in 2013. Nevertheless, I’m willing to acknowledge that Obama already has a poor track record, so my hopes are not high for him.
David – with a true small government President, nuclear energy will flourish. We do not need the government’s help, we need the government to get out of the flipping way.
Nuclear fission is well proven. The science is complete. It is being artificially held down by the fossil fuel addicted Lilliputians.
So, you want the elimination of any and all environmental laws (“small government”) and more coal plants (government “getting out of the way”), the way it happened in Texas …
Rest of comment deleted
There’s really no need for that kind of language and personal attack on what is generally a technical/policy blog (although politics creeps in here and there). If you disgaree with Rod, make your case calmly and rationally. That will carry a lot more credibility than a rant laced with filthy language.
@Wayne SW – thank you for the defense and for pointing out the bad behavior. I have deleted the filthy part of the comment.
I am willing to host an active debate and rarely censor any comments. However, I want everyone to remember that my mother occasionally visits this blog. Though she is well aware of various forms of profanity (she taught high school in a lower middle class neighborhood in South Florida for a couple of decades) I prefer not to be the source of that language.
With regard to politics, I am willing to allow that topic as well because you cannot discuss energy policy without a firm understanding of politics.
@Richard – the best way to get rid of coal fired power plants is to offer a cheaper, more reliable way to produce the same product. I firmly believe that Fermi and his friends showed us the way forward there.
The tiny simulated fuel pellets that I keep on my desk represent the amount of commercial nuclear fuel required to provide the same amount of heat as a ton of coal using our current, rather inefficient technology. The going rate, including all costs, for one million BTUs of heat from commercial nuclear fuel is 65 cents. The same amount of heat from coal will cost $2.50 to $4.00 and that is WITHOUT considering any costs to pay for the use of a disposal system.
Give nuclear energy a remotely level playing field and you will see coal and natural gas sidelined as quickly as nuclear sidelined oil in the electrical power game. I do not limit the use of nuclear energy to the electricity market, we can and should compete successfully in the commercial shipping market, the home heating market (indirectly), the railroad market (indirectly) and the industrial process heat market.
Rod, as a fellow lifelong pro-nuclear Democrat I am with you. Disgusted. Disappointed. Depressed.
With an election year coming up rapidly I don’t think the White House will remove Jaczko. Not that there was much chance of it before.
As for members of Congress believing the rules don’t apply to them–or that nuclear safety could be threatened with due to the megalomania of the chairman–similarly disgusting. And not going to change any time soon.
As for Boxer? What a lightweight.
Andrea – my analysis is different. The reason I am pretty sure we can make something happen in this case is BECAUSE there is an election coming up. Jaczko’s actions have stirred up a potential hornets nest of varying interest groups, from the workers at Vogtle that might experience a Christmas season layoff, to the voters in the state of Washington who have a significant amount of radioactive material that is all packaged up with no place to go, to the voters in Virginia that had to pay several tens of millions while North Anna was forced to remain shut down for several months after the inspections howed that the quake caused no damage.
Then he made the fatal error of lying to Congress about verifiable statements of fact regarding forcing staff members to alter their professional inputs to NRC documents.
Don’t pick on Jaczko. The record shows that he’s a “good man” (Boxer, 2011). 😉
I’m a cynic, but even I was surprised about how partisan the Congressional hearings were. This is not good.
The four commissioners deserve a lot of credit for standing up for what they believe is in the best interest of effective nuclear regulation.
It’s really sad that the Democrats in the two hearings have decided to treat this as a mutiny because of their own biased opinions on nuclear power. Glenn Seaborg, a lifelong Democrat and former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, must be rolling over in his grave.
Boxer, Barbara (2011). Senate Environment and Public Works Hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
So what is the next step in the Jaczko affair? The Democrats in Congress, and presumably the White House, seem happy to allow the commissioners go back to NRC headquarters and “work it out”, perhaps with the help of some third party conflict resolution expert.
Either Jaczko changes his behavior, or he doesn’t. If he does, then they might be able to get some effective work done. If he doesn’t, then we may hear about it at some future Congressional oversight committee hearing. The Vogtle and VC Summer COLs are supposed to be approved this month. There are two weeks left.
Jaczko announced this week that we are talking 1 or 2 months away.
With what happened this week, he could use it as an excuse for an additional delay.
Plus he does not see any justifications to speeding up the process and granting both licences at the same time.
IF those COLs don’t get done as promised on Jaczko’s watch, it’s my guess he’ll blame it on the “turmoil” supposedly created by the other four Commissioners, and the Dems in Congress will back him up. These guys are nothing if not good at playing the blame game. They’re rats, nothing else. Look, Jaczko was named Chairman for two reasons, and neither has anything to do with nuclear safety. First, he was put there to kill the Yucca Mountain program, to appease Harry Reid, get him re-elected, and help preserve the Dem majority in the Senate for this Congress. Second, Jaczko was put there to obstruct the potential revival of nuclear energy in this coutry as much as possible. This was a sop to people like Markey, Boxer, Bernie Sanders, and the “environmentalist” lobby, without whose votes Obama’s re-election is that much more difficult. You pro-nuke Dems better wake up and smell the coffee. None of this is being done to help nuclear or even do the right thing. It is all politics with these people, and the number one priority it to get their idol Obama another term.
Wayne, what you say about the Dems is true. But it’s also true about Issa, one of the most partisan Republicans in Congress…this is the problem…for the Republicans they are trying to use nuclear energy as a partisan wedge to go after Obama (which is silly, as I pointed out above).
Winning over the base of the Dems to a pro-nuclear position is a task that works against partisanship. It simply has to be done as NO ONE votes Republican to GET nuclear power. No one outside of some places in New Mexico or other very pro-nuclear towns or cities.
Support for nuclear is quite passive. Opposition is aggressive and activist. What we need to do is to effectively render the majority Democrats opposition to nuclear impotent. This means see more of their constituents won over to OUR side.
Because support of nuclear is quite passive, this means that other issues need take precedence over how people vote: the war in Afghanistan, the economy, college tuition, taxes, etc etc.
Jaczko is too important to Sen. Reid’s agenda to kill Yucca Mountain and Sen. Reid’s cooperation is too important to President Obama for Jaczko to have been in any real danger. As long as Harry Reid is in the Majority Leader (regardless of who gets elected president) Jaczko is pretty much untouchable. At the risk of sounding even more cynical, it isn’t obvious to me that Issa or anyone else at the hearing really cares that much about nuclear power. Issa is nothing if not highly partisan. He knew there was no way Congress can force Jaczko out. The commissioners serve at the pleasure of the President. The hearings were nothing more than a chance to score political points against the Obama administration.
I believe the hearings served an important role of forcing the situation into the public view. Left inside of a relatively small federal agency handling a technology that is mysterious to almost everyone and scary to some, it would have festered.
Now we have clear video evidence of four strong,intelligent public servants calmly providing sworn testimony that indicates that the very least you have to admit about Jaczko is that he is an ineffective bureaucrat. There were some excellent questions asked and some evasive and dishonest responses provided. I do not believe that most people registered in either party are anywhere near as partisan as the groupthink victims who live and work inside the Beltway.
This episode is not over. I am sticking by my prediction of a resignation or demotion by Christmas, though my timing might be a bit optimistic.
Rod – I don’t think that is going to happen, and I would make you a bet … but I really hope that you are right.
So I’ll just keep my fingers crossed.
Managers, good and bad, come and go, especially so with political appointees. The good and the bad generally stay put unless they really screw up (sex scandal, for example, will get them the boot, at least if they are Republicans). It is unfortunate in this case that we have four competent Commissioners being hamstrung by a single poorly performing Chairman. We can only hope that the technically competent staff can ride out this unfortunate period until a halfway decent Chairman comes into office. Its like food poisoning working through your system. You feel incredibly lousy for a time but hopefully bounce back.
One complaint I’ve noted against Jaczko is that he is a “bully”. Given his background, I can see this could very well be the case. And there is no worse bully than a former nerd turned bully. They tend to lash out at any and all as comeuppance to their own victimization. In my career in industry and government and academia, I’ve seen this phenomenon many times. It’s probably the most unscientific observation I’ve ever made, but it is very often true.
Much of this appears to me to be run of the mill infighting and fallout from a irreconcilable breach among the commissioners on the execution of the recommendations from the Fukushima Near Term Task Force. Personality shortcomings rarely get anybody fired, and the commissioners have explicitly stated (over and over again) that the Chaiman’s management style has not adversely impacted their votes, collective decisions of the full committee, or execution of the NRCs mandate. Senior and career staff at the NRC don’t seem to have noticed any of it, and continue to report positive impressions of the Agency. So what would be the basis for dismissal (that the Chairman appears to have shouted at some people from time to time)? That four commissioners would go on record with the President and testify at length in two congressional committees that a “personality conflict” is a basis of their significant differences with the Chairman seems a bit strange and dishonest to me, and at a minimum is a significant distraction. If they don’t have the courage to say it’s a policy difference, and that the Chairman is running the NRC like a fiefdom and is excluding their views, then they are essentially saying nothing (and appear to be airing dirty laundry in public and venting in front of Congress and the President). People don’t usually reward such behavior unless a substantive claim is being made. This whole affair (and it reads like an affair) is a shot across the bow, nothing else.
Carper (D-DE) sits on Senate Environment and Public Works Committee … he’s a democrat who’s statement was authoritative in the Senate hearing, and has also taken an active interest in trying to resolve these differences (without siding with the Chairman). Nothing in this “lover’s spat” seems to line up cleanly along partisan lines, there appears to be much more going on beneath the surface.
If a Republican is elected president, I would expect that Jaczko will be replaced, probably by Ostendorff.
Obama has good reasons to remain blind. A new Republican president would have no reason to ignore what is going on in the NRC, and now, after these hearings, he would have every reason to go after a political appointee like Jaczko.
I’ll just add that, of course, Issa is highly partisan. Boxer is highly partisan too. (Didn’t you notice?) Nevertheless, both held hearings on this topic.
The Commissioners addressed their letter to the White House Chief of Staff, not Issa or Boxer.
Boxer did not hold a hearing on this topic. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had previously scheduled this hearing, before any of the Commissioners sent their letter to the President, on Fukushima Task Force Recommendations (and timeline for implementation). The title of the hearing was: “Review of the NRCs Near-Term Task Force Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century.” It was natural some Senators chose to use their time and ask questions related to House hearing from the previous day.
I found Senator Boxer’s comparison of the hearing to a McCarthy era red hunt or witch hunt to be very dismissive and diminishing of the issues at hand. This is a personnel matter, not a witch hunt as she labels it. I would be particularly insulted if I was one of the other commissioners by that assertion.
This whole process is a sad microcosm of our political affairs. The politicians are so polarized that they are incapable of objective judgement when such judgement even has the chance of a poor political reflection on their side. Both parties do this but seeing it played out in this particular instance was rather glaring.
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