The “Untouchable”

This entry was featured in the 57th carnival of nuclear bloggers on the ANS Nuclear Cafe:

There is much being made of NRC Chairman Jaczko’s job performance, his political maneuverings and congressional hearings into his performance as chairman of the NRC. What is less clear is whether any of this really matters.

After listening to and reading many articles about investigations into Dr. Jaczko’s job performance and Congressional Republican’s demand for his resignation, I decided to do a little investigating of my own. After all, the position was created by some laws that were passed by the same congress that is calling for his head.

The document is available on the NRC website. It isn’t the most exciting read out there, but a valuable one if you want to make statements about the employment of people at the top of the commission. I find it helpful to try to read original source documents when I can in order to get at the truth more directly. It allows me to understand other interpretations more accurately.

I learned several things from a fairly quick perusal of this document.

  • Only ONE person can force Dr. Jaczko out of his job, and that is the man the put him into it.

In fact, the same is true for all of the commissioners, only the president can fire any of the commissioners. The document is quite clear that the president can remove any commissioner for “inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office”. That said, no commissioner, let alone the chairman, has ever been fired. On page 9 and 10 of the document there is a list all of the commissioners, how long they served, and why they left. When you examine that list carefully, you note that only six commissioners left prior to the end of their terms since the NRC was created out of the ashes of the AEC. They are all listed as resigning. It is possible that some of them were forced to resign, but even with that the list is very short.

  • All of the commissioners have an equal vote and proceedings are approved by a simple majority of the commissioner’s present.

It is less clear that the vote can be held up by the Chairman until he likes the outcome. The withholding of the vote on the NRC’s response to the finding of the ASLB is clearly on shaky ground. All of the commissioners (including Dr. Jaczko) have submitted their votes. It is unclear why Dr. Jaczko is refusing to make the results known.

  • The Chairman of the NRC is the CEO as well. He gets to make personnel decisions for the entire commission (except for the personal staff of each commissioner).

Well almost, he has to get the other commissioners’ approval (by simple majority) for the department heads. It’s less clear as one moves further down in the organization.

  • The Chairman of the NRC also controls the purse strings. He gets to exercise executive (decision making) and administrative (action) for the use and expenditure of funds.

The commission even has the right to revise budget estimates and distribution of appropriated funds. This is why the Inspector General says the Dr. Jaczko’s actions are within the law.

The Inspector General of the NRC’s report has been leaked to various agencies and paints a portrait of a leader who is more concerned with his political calculus than leading the agency with which he is charged. Republicans in Congress have been incensed by his actions claiming he has “politicized” the process. Congress can investigate him every which way they want, could even demonstrate that Dr. Jaczko has abused his position to further the agenda of his former bosses, Senator Reid and Congressman Markey. What they cannot do is to fire him from the position.

Unless President Obama concludes and can demonstrate “inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office” or Dr. Jaczko has tired of the position, Dr. Jaczko will continue to serve as the chairman of the NRC. Given that the President had wanted an end to Yucca Mountain and Dr. Jaczko has enforced exactly that action within the NRC, it would appear to me that Dr. Jaczko would get high marks from the administration for supporting that effort with his own pre-emptive budget and project closure.

Much has been made of Dr. Jaczko’s management style, keeping secrets and not informing other commissioners. His handling of the international relations with the Japanese also has left much to be desired. None of these complaints are clear cut violations of those three issues. If President Obama is happy with Dr. Jaczko’s performance, then Congress can do little to force a change.

7 thoughts on “The “Untouchable””

  1. Sure they can.

    They can have him charged with breaking the law, tried convicted and jailed.

    I’m sure the Repug attorney’s are looking at doing just that.

    • Federal charges would have to come from the attorney general’s office. That is a part of the executive branch which is under Mr. Obama’s control. I have not heard that office is investigating Dr. Jaczko. As I stated before, it would appear to me that President Obama is, in fact, quite pleased with Dr. Jaczko and would not be directing the AG to investigate charges against him.

      State charges would be a different matter, of course, but the accusations I’ve heard leveled at Dr. Jaczko are of a federal nature.

      Congress can and should investigate accusations of wrong doing on the part of members of the executive branch. However, on going witch hunts are not typically effective and serve to distract resources from more useful efforts.

  2. “The Untouchable”

    Now there’s an interesting title.

    I’m guessing it was selected in the context of the “Elliot Ness/FBI” mythology.

    Can I suggest another meaning?

    I work for an Indian company. There, there’s a similar term, “daalit” in Hindi. It translates as “untouchable”. It’s part of the caste heritage, which India is working to shed.

    However, in reality, “untouchable” means “someone with whom it’s dishonourable to be associated”. It’s usually applied to someone who handles cow hides, or carries excrement for a living.

    It’s probably none of my business – but on behaviour to date, Mr Jaczko is a tad less socially acceptable. After all, you can carry buckets of s**t in an entirely ethical manner.

    • Andy,

      It is fun to have someone with your wit reading my attempts to elucidate and educate. In fact, you’ve nailed my reference perfectly, but I appreciate your suggestion of a second meaning. I’ve been listening to reports on the latest round of hearings and it is sad to hear that an agency that has long been well regarded for its lack of political infighting get dragged into the muck. Perhaps it was an unconscious reference on my part.

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