Saturday, October 23, 2010

NRC budget guidance on Yucca called “partisan act”

Two members of House Appropriations Committee raps Jaczko on it

Merry-go-roundIn the world of the Washington, DC, merry-go-round, it takes a lot to rile the members of the House Appropriations Committee There is so much money flowing across their desks they usually don’t get too excited about the small potatoes of federal independent agency staff costs.

Circumstances change when it comes to a federal agency head making up what appears to be his own funding policy out in front of the congressional headlights. This is a very bad idea because Members of Congress take their constitutional powers to set spending levels very seriously.

This brings us to a letter sent this week by two members of the House Appropriations Committee to NRC Chairmain Gregory Jaczko. It tells him he cannot implement the agency’s FY 2011 budget because the agency is still operating on the FY 2010 budget under the continuing resolution affecting all federal agencies.

In the world of Washington budget matters, this is considered to be a “duh” moment. You cannot spend money you do not have. There are no credit cards for federal agencies.

Yucca budget guidance

jaczkoNRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko (right) told his agency to go ahead and “close down” all work on Yucca Mountain because that’s what’s in the FY 2011 budget. The problem from a congressional budget view is that’s illegal under the Anti-deficiency Act because he doesn’t have an FY 2011 budget yet.

Rep Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and Rep Rodney Frelinghuysen wrote to Jaczko on Wednesday Oct 20 telling him this.

“… the NRC's fiscal year 2011 budget request is irrelevant under the CR. Congress has approved only your fiscal year 2010 budget request, which did not include funding to shut down the Yucca Mountain license application. (emphasis added)

We expect that you will continue your fiscal year 2010 activities until Congress provides you additional funding and direction.

Furthermore, we question the responsibility of your actions, considering that the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has rejected the Department of Energy's motion to withdraw the application and you and your fellow Commissioners have not overturned this decision.”

Jaczko’s “partisan” act

Partisan ActAlso, the letter calls Jazcko’s directives a “partisan act,” which is a very strong statement considering the NRC’s legal requirements for rigorous fairness in matters.

It is never a good idea to get this kind of attention from an appropriation committee. Even worse for the NRC, since we’re talking about “partisan issues,” the letter comes from two Republicans. That party is likely to take over the House in the Nov 2 elections which will propel both men into leadership positions.

Whether Jaczko likes it or not, he will have to dance to their tune if that happens. Next February when the NRC presents its appropriations request to the Appropriations Committee, he may be looking down the double barrel of two very annoyed Members of Congress who now hold his agency’s budget fate in their hands.

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