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.

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