The Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

More Aggressive Leadership Needed

EMD-80-17: Published: Jan 15, 1980. Publicly Released: Jan 15, 1980.

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In response to congressional directive, GAO reviewed and audited the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) performance regulating nuclear activities during the first 5 years of its existence. The NRC regulates the Nation's commercial nuclear power program and other nuclear activities. Concern over the future of nuclear power has reached crisis proportions, and the NRC will need to establish a foundation of public and industry confidence in its regulatory ability if nuclear power is to survive the crisis. GAO believes that NRC Commissioners need to provide leadership and direction, set measurable goals, evaluate progress and performance, take control of regulatory policymaking, and make the Commission Chairman the agency's principal executive officer in fact as well as in name.

GAO believes that the NRC Commissioners have failed to take control of the Commission. They were not providing leadership and direction to the Commission staff, the regulated industry, or the public. They had not established measurable goals, objectives, or systems for measuring performance. With a few exceptions, the Commissioners had allowed the Commission staff to decide when new policies were needed and how they should be written. Finally, the Commissioners had not clearly defined their roles or that of their executive officer. The lack of leadership was seen as the major factor contributing to the Commission's slow, indecisive, and cautious performance. It relied too heavily on the policies and procedures of its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission. GAO also considered alternatives to the current organizational form of the NRC. They found that: (1) the single administrator form would eliminate leadership problems but could lead to abrupt changes in policy with changes in administrators; (2) strengthening the current commission would offer the advantage of bringing to bear much deliberation on regulatory issues; and (3) separating the Commission into a regulatory policymaking commission and a regulatory agency headed by a single administrator would take advantage of the strengths of both systems.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should continue to take an active oversight role in monitoring the Commissioners' progress in implementing GAO recommendations. Because of the diversity of opinion among the Commissioners on the need to clarify and strengthen the roles of the Commission Chairman and the Executive Director for Operations, and whether or not legislation is needed to accomplish this, Congress should pay particular attention to this important aspect of strengthening the Commission.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Chairman and other Commissioners of the NRC should take the initiative in formalizing a relationship between the NRC and the Department of Energy (DOE) which permits the agencies to coordinate their high-level waste programs without compromising NRC ability to independently license and regulate future DOE high-level waste storage and/or disposal facilities. In addition, they should decide whether, or to what extent, NRC should rely on DOE high-level nuclear waste programmatic environmental statements in discharging NRC responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. They should track research projects from inception through incorporation into licensing and related regulatory processes to insure research results are fully incorporated into nuclear regulation. The Commissioners should develop measurable Commission goals, objectives and systems for evaluating performance in meeting the goals and objectives; elevate policymaking activities to the Commissioner level; and define the Commission Chairman's authority and duties as the Commission's principal executive officer; and place the Executive Director for Operations in charge of staff-level day-to-day operations. If necessary to implement this recommendation, the Commissioners should seek appropriate legislation from Congress.

    Agency Affected:


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