Lack of confidence reason enough to fire NRC chief

Could the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission be such a bully that his behavior is a threat to our nation's nuclear security?

That was the topic of debate during testimony at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week.

Clearly, some folks who work closely with NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko have big problems with his behavior. We're glad to know it's not just people like us, living in communities cleaning up decades of nuclear waste, who think the guy is a bad fit for a very important job.

We've written editorials and published columns pointing out his shortcomings as the bureaucrat in charge of our nation's nuclear program, especially his inept response to the Obama administration's unilateral dismantling of the high level nuclear waste storage project at Yucca Mountain.

To put it bluntly, if we're to take his fellow commissioners at their word (and we do) Jaczko is a jerk with an ego so immense it gets in the way of doing his job.

Even without a Neanderthal management style that retards cooperation and teamwork, he'd still be a poor choice for the job.

Granted, he has a doctorate in physics that certainly provided familiarity with the scientific process. But his life's work has been congressional politics.

It seems much more likely he got the position as a political favor than on the strength of his technical credentials.

His former boss is Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, home of Yucca Mountain. Is this all starting to make sense now?

Oh, what a tangled web we weave ... and at the potential expense of weakening the safety of our nuclear industry.

The House committee's hearing confirmed much of what we already knew: Jaczko was described by his fellow commissioners as secretive, verbally abusive and intimidating, among other unflattering characteristics for a person charged with governing our nation's nuclear policy and safety platforms.

Some of those criticisms are backed by corroborating evidence, most notably the NRC's inspector general findings earlier this year that Jaczko misled fellow commissioners about his efforts to kill the Yucca Mountain project.

In October, his fellow commissioners took the extreme step of sending a letter to the White House, outlining "grave concerns" about his behavior. Though they didn't call for him to resign, they alleged he instructed staff to withhold information, disregarded the consensus of the committee and was an intimidating bully to staff members. His overall behavior was affecting the commission's ability perform its duties.

But as tough as his bi-partisan colleagues were on him, some Republican members of the House had even harsher words to share.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, shook a finger at Jaczko, the New York Times reported

"When you have four eyewitnesses that testify to someone under oath, you know what they call a defendant after that?" Gowdy asked.

"An inmate," he said.

Democrats on the committee were quick to come to Jaczko's defense, however, giving the debate over Jaczko's leadership a partisan feel.

Jaczko said many of the allegations were news to him and he apologized for any disruption caused by the fact that his fellow commissioners do not like him. The White House issued a statement, promising Jaczko would improve communications.

But Jaczko's apparent indifference in the hearing didn't support the promise of improved behavior or show compassion for those who may truly have been hurt by his actions, intended or not.

He does not plan to resign and could not point to one thing he had done wrong in his 21/2 years at the helm of the NRC. And that just smacks of the arrogant attitude he flaunts, telegraphing a belief that he will stay in the job as long as he wants.

"I have no intention to leave office and the only other person who has the ability to remove me from office is the president," Jaczko has said.

In many a private sector job, Jaczko's attitude would have cost him dearly. And if he had the best interest of the nuclear program and our country at heart, he would resign rather than let the controversy over him interfere with the important work at hand.

But Jaczko strikes us as far too selfish for that, and it appears the administration is content to let him continue his reign, no matter the cost.