NRC Needs Alternative to Mandatory Relocation for Maintaining Objectivity of Resident Inspectors

RCED-84-37: Published: Nov 2, 1983. Publicly Released: Nov 2, 1983.

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GAO evaluated the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) policy of relocating its resident inspectors at least every 5 years.

Because NRC has estimated that resident inspectors will incur financial losses due to relocation, it has requested legislative authority to pay them higher relocation allowances than federal employees are generally provided. Since some residents are approaching the end of their 5-year duty tours, NRC has authorized the heads of five regional offices to recommend extensions of duty tours beyond 5 years pending resolution of the financial hardship issue. GAO believes that periodic movement of the inspectors enhances their objectivity by providing a diversity of experience. However, implementation of the mandatory relocation policy may impair the overall quality of the NRC inspection program by causing experienced residents to resign rather than accept periodic relocation. Moreover, since residents require from 1 to 2 years to fully acquaint themselves with a nuclear powerplant, relocation every 5 years means that, in the short run, residents will spend a significant portion of their assignments at less than full proficiency. Although NRC presently has only limited means to measure the objectivity of resident inspectors, it has concluded that loss of objectivity has generally not occurred. GAO believes that there is a better way than mandatory relocation for NRC to help ensure objectivity in view of the uncertainty that NRC will obtain legislative authority to pay higher relocation allowances and the risk that many residents may resign.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: An accomplishment report, A-RCED-84-25, was approved on May 1, 1984.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should adopt a flexible policy which encourages, but does not mandate, periodic relocations while retaining NRC management's prerogative of relocating individual residents when management determines that it is in the best interests of NRC.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NRC has revised its resident inspector assignment and rotation policy, including specifying alternative methods for assessing inspector objectivity. However, because the subject report is 2 years old, GAO does not propose to prepare an accomplishment report.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should use alternative measures, such as those now being selectively used by some regional offices, to assess inspector objectivity.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission


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