Chief of Staff Bill Daley breaks White House silence over escalating conflicts about the NRC

The shouting may be over in the long simmering dispute that broke out into the open last Friday at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko has issued an apology via the White House to the other four commissioners who jointly signed a letter complaining about his management practices.

A hearing by the House Oversight Committee scheduled for Wednesday December 14 will not see the fireworks that were expected as a result of the heated accusations that were exchanged today between committee chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) on the MSNBC TV network. Their verbal fireworks threatened to derail any effort to contain the conflict.

Now, it is more likely that the hearing will include acts of contrition and pledges for better communication among the five commissioners.  Skeptics think it won't last much longer than the late night news coverage, but stranger things have happened in DC.  The good news is there are no allegations of financial wrong doing and no got drunk and jumped in the reflecting pool with a stripper.

Daley said in his letter that he believes the sources of the conflict can be addressed and he emphasized that while this is taking place that there will be no compromise of safety at the nation's 104 nuclear reactors.

Rep. Issa is not convinced that an olive branch has been extended by Jaczko or the White House.  He said in a statement released late Monday evening that "the White House is in denial" about the serious nature of infighting at the NRC.

White House wakes up and smells the coffee

These late breaking events follow an action packed Monday of meetings in which Daley and other White House staff worked to stave off a major meltdown of the regulatory agency.

According to press reports about Daley's letter to Issa, Jaczko has issued a personal apology and will seek third party mediation to help work out the differences that have emerged between him and the other four commissioners.


"The chairman apologized for the distractions caused by the present tensions and has taken responsibility for improving communications among the commissioners," Daley wrote.

Daley also wrote, "We have concluded that while there are tensions and disagreements among the commissioners, these management differences have not impaired the commission's ability to fulfill its mission"


From that formal language it appears that the White House counsel is in the picture reminding the President what happens to the nation's electricity supply if the NRC is determined to be non compos mentis. Based on the letter the four commissioners sent on October 13, all five  have had plenty of reasons to be distracted even if they also contributed to the fray by responding to perceived as well as real provocation. Now, the White House says, it is time for the nonsense to stop.

A white dove flies over troubled waters

 Flame out over too much wind

The White House had little choice but to get Jaczko to make a peace offering while also backing him in the position.  Many who have rankled, with some justification, at Jaczko's erratic tenure at the NRC feel this may be a time when he might be forced to leave the agency or to step down as chairman. Neither is likely to happen as replacing him would be politically difficult.

But once his disputes went public, he became a liability, but not for the reasons that ordinarily come to mind. In terms of realist politics, Jaczko was given the job for one reason, and that was to bottle up the Yucca Mountain project by preventing the license application from ever getting a hearing.

In the world of political appointments in Washington, DC, when people get mission focused tasks like that, they are supposed to do their job, and then keep their head down on all other matters.

Jaczko became a liability because he disregarded this salient piece of advice getting into a high profile series of ego driven personality conflicts with the other commissioners.  Again, from the point of view of realist politics, it was an unwise series of moves that could mark the rest of his career because he blew up the one reason he was useful to the Obama White House.

Who's the real opponent of Yucca Mountain?

Jaczko at the White House

Sen. Harry Reid has long been tagged as the point man for opposition to Yucca Mountain. In point of fact, he was a very convenient point man too giving the Obama campaign in 2008 a made to order wedge issue to win Nevada electoral votes,

It was the President who appointed Jaczko to the NRC and the fact that he came from Reid's staff is simply the mechanics of DC politics.

While Jaczko had previously worked for anti-nuke arch druid Rep. Ed Markey, that probably didn't matter to the wonkish Obama White House which may have been more impressed with his Ph.D. in physics from a top university.

The president needs to win Nevada again in 2012, and he needs Yucca to remain dead dead dead.  But Jaczko made himself a target by pestering the other four commissioners over penny ante stuff like travel, staff assignments, and an unpleasant management style. Of course the iceberg that was 7/8ths under water was the dispute over the Yucca Mountain license.  You wouldn't know it from the newspaper headlines.

The White House got an apology from Jaczko  because he was no longer following the mandate of do one thing, do it well, and don't make waves on anything else.

The four commissioners shouldn't take the apology personally for the simple reason it isn't about them.  Jaczko's mea culpa is to the White House and Congress over forgetting why he got the job.

Jaczko is smart guy, but the train of events indicates that that he might have outsmarted himself.  It's a hard lesson to learn.  Maybe now the NRC can get back to work.