The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved staff recommendations under the so-called “Project Aim,” which would have the effect of cutting NRC staffing by the equivalent of 185 full-time positions over two years.
The NRC commission approved the majority of the staff recommendations in an April 13 memorandum issued in connection with SECY 16-0009: Recommendations resulting from the Integrated Prioritization and Re-baselining of Agency Activities.”
The NRC decision marks a big step in the Project Aim process, which has been cheered on by key members of Congress, to “right-size” the nuclear agency. There had been an expansion of the NRC workforce when it appeared that NRC was going to see a huge surge in new reactor applications around 2008.
The Obama administration’s FY 2017 budget proposal for NRC funds 3,462 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, a decline of 90 FTE from the FY 2016 budget and 280 FTE since 2014.
The NRC has begun overhauling the agency’s workload, shedding, deferring or reducing resources, NRC said in an April 15 blog posting. “This is a crucial step in Project Aim, our effort to transform the NRC into a more agile, effective and efficient organization poised to meet the challenges of the future,” according to the NRC blog.
The commission has decided on the staff’s recommendations of activities that can be eliminated or de-prioritized without compromising NRC’s safety mission. Reductions total about $48.97m and will reduce the workforce by about 185.3 full-time equivalents (FTE) over the next two years. “We are confident we can implement the majority of these reductions by the end of September, allowing us to achieve significant savings in fiscal year 2017,” NRC said in the blog post.
Every office, division and branch within the NRC will be affected either directly or indirectly.
“What will all this mean for our licensees and other external stakeholders? We will no longer conduct mid-cycle reviews under the Reactor Oversight Process,” NRC said. “Procedures and guidance may not be updated as often, and the updates may take longer. Materials licenses will be renewed every 15 years instead of every 10. As our budget shrinks, fees assessed to licensees should go down as well.”
“While we remain committed to be open and transparent, some public meetings traditionally held near nuclear facilities will instead be handled by webinars or GoToMeeting,” NRC said. “And if you call the NRC after work hours, you may end up talking to an answering machine rather than an operator, as we cut back on contractor expenses. The emergency operations center will continue to be staffed 24 hours a day. We will also be reducing travel and training support for our Agreement State and tribal government partners.”
Re-baselining is the beginning, not the end, of the NRC’s Project Aim transformation. NRC will continue to look for more ways to increase efficiency. “As part of this effort, the staff on March 18 presented the Commission a list of longer-term efficiencies that will bring additional benefits now and in the future, as well as a projection of changes in the agency workload through FY 2020,” NRC said.
Additional proposals will be sent to the NRC commission in the spring, including potential reductions to the agency’s drug testing program and current security clearance requirements, and the evaluation of merging the Offices of Nuclear Reactor Regulation and the Office of New Reactors.