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NRC chair won't step down after bullying charges

WASHINGTON - Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko on Wednesday denied claims by fellow commissioners that he has bullied and intimidated staff members, and said he has no plans to step down.

Under fierce questioning from a House committee, Jaczko refused to name a single thing he had done wrong in his 2 1/2-year tenure as NRC chair.

"I have no plans to resign, because I continue to believe under my leadership the agency has performed very well," Jaczko said. "We have committed ourselves to safety, and I believe my record shows that."

Jaczko's comments came after four of the five members of the NRC said the chairman's "bullying and intimidation" have damaged the agency's effectiveness.

The commissioners - two Democrats and two Republicans - said Jaczko, a Democrat, is responsible for an increasingly tense and unsettled work environment at the NRC. The four commissioners sent a letter to the White House in October expressing "grave concern" about Jaczko' s actions.

Commissioner William Magwood, a Democrat, told a House oversight committee that Jaczko had bullied and belittled three female staff members, one of whom said she was "humiliated" by what Magwood called a "raging verbal assault."

Magwood and other commissioners denied claims by some lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, that the allegations against Jaczko were politically motivated. Jaczko worked for Reid before joining the NRC.

Commissioner William Ostendorff, seated next to Jaczko, said the real issue is Jaczko's "bullying and intimidation" of NRC staffers and even some commissioners, which Ostendorff said "should not and cannot be tolerated."

Ostendorff, a Republican, said he had "lost faith" in Jaczko's ability to lead the commission.

Jaczko denied he has bullied employees, although he conceded he did have a heated conversation with a senior NRC manager about the agency's response to the nuclear crisis in Japan last spring.

"I have not bullied employees," Jaczko said.

Jaczko conceded that he has had heated conversations with fellow commissioners, but denied he was trying to intimidate or bully anyone, as all four commissioners have alleged. Numerous NRC staffers also have complained that Jaczko's style has made them uncomfortable.

Jaczko said he was "a very passionate person about safety," adding, "I often engaged my colleagues in discussions about safety and that's been my style."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Jaczko should resign.

"You're telling me they are all wrong and you are right," he told Jaczko. "That to me is a lack of leadership."

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said he found Jaczko's answers hard to believe.

"I've never seen such self-deluded behavior by any individual probably in my whole life," he said.

Labrador repeatedly pressed Jaczko to name a single thing he had done wrong as chairman, and Jaczko repeatedly declined.

"It is clear from your statements and your actions that you believe your judgment and your passion surpasses the four (other commissioners) combined," Labrador said

In their Oct. 13 letter to White House Chief of Staff William Daley, the four NRC commissioners said they had "grave concerns" about Jaczko and said his bullying style is creating a "chilled work environment at the NRC."

The letter stopped short of calling for the chairman to resign, but said Jaczko's actions could adversely affect the agency's mission to protect health and safety at the nation's 104 commercial nuclear reactors.

Among other claims, the letter says Jaczko "intimidated and bullied" senior career staff, ordered staff to withhold information and ignored the will of the panel's majority. The letter was signed by Democrats William Magwood and George Apostolakis, as well as Republicans Ostendorff and Kristine Svinicki.

Jaczko, in a detailed response also sent to the White House, said problems at the agency were not his fault but instead stem from "lack of understanding" on the part of the other four commissioners.

Daley said this week that the dispute has not impaired the panel's work or jeopardized safety at the nation's nuclear power plants.

Daley said problems stem from the commission's "strong chairman" structure, in which the leader of the five-member panel has far greater powers than the remaining four commissioners.

In a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Daley downplayed tension at the NRC and said commissioners have agreed to meet with a "trusted third party" to promote a better dialogue.

On Tuesday, Issa released a scathing report that said Jaczko has a "my way or the highway" style and routinely oversteps his authority and undermines and intimidates his colleagues.

"The NRC has survived thus far, but the cracks are forming and all symptoms point to catastrophe," the report said.

Democrats on the oversight panel released their own report Tuesday saying that extensive interviews with commission members and staff "uncovered no violations of law or instances in which the safety of U.S. nuclear facilities has been placed in jeopardy."

The Democrats said their investigation "has revealed a tense and challenging work environment, however, that appears to have been caused primarily by fundamental disagreements about the statutory structure of the NRC and significant policy disputes among its commissioners."