Energy and Commerce members investigate “chilled work environment” at NRC

Members of the Energy and Commerce Committee continue to investigate evidence of a “chilled work environment” created under Chairman Jaczko’s leadership at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Republican members of the committee wrote to Jaczko today requesting information about the Commission’s practices for ensuring a healthy work environment and how they apply to Jaczko and his fellow commissioners. The members believe the NRC and its leadership should be held accountable to the same standards as the NRC requires of its nuclear licensees.

Citing the Commission’s own inspection manual, the members wrote: “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 ‘chilling effect letters’ to ensure licensees are taking appropriate actions to foster a safety conscious work environment (SCWE)….”

The members continued, “Moreover, we expect all commissioners to lead by example and to conduct themselves with standards that meet or exceed those required and expected of the industry. This is particularly important for a chairman, as organizationally, he or she sets the tone and is the principal executive with direct influence over the agency’s staff.”

The members suggest Chairman Jaczko’s reported actions contradict the Commission’s own safety practices, pointing to recent allegations raised by his fellow commissioners, including the October 13, 2011, letter to Jaczko in which the four commissioners charged, “While you are a champion of openness in Commission deliberations, you have taken steps to discourage open communication between the staff and the Commission.”

The committee members also detailed instances in which Chairman Jaczko’s reported behavior would elicit a “Chilling Effect Letter if it [the NRC] 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. … The NRC appears to lack its own guidance for assessing and correcting a chilled work environment, a gap that has, in our view, facilitated a pattern of behavior we find unacceptable at an agency that is responsible for identifying and preventing similar behavior by its licensees.”