U.S. NRC Blog

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Category Archives: General

Election Year, the Hatch Act and NRC Employees

Eric Michel
Attorney

flagLike most Americans, the employees of the NRC are watching the 2016 elections and considering who to vote for in November. But unlike most Americans, there are a number of political activities which NRC employees – as part of the federal government – cannot do.

The prohibitions are contained in the Hatch Act, a law first passed in 1939. The act restricts executive branch employees in their actions related to partisan elections – and not just at work. The intent behind the restrictions is to maintain a politically neutral federal workforce, free from partisan influence or coercion.

As outlined in the NRC’s Management Directive 7.10, NRC employees cannot engage in political activity while on duty or while inside a federal building. They can’t wear a partisan political button, display a campaign sign in their office or use their government computer to send an email advocating for or against a partisan political candidate or political party.

Even while off duty, NRC employees cannot solicit or receive funds on behalf of a partisan candidate or political party. You also won’t find NRC employees on any ballot for a partisan election – that’s prohibited, too.

Activities most NRC employees are allowed to do on their own time includes:

  • Register and vote
  • Assist in voter registration drives
  • Contribute money to political organizations
  • Distribute campaign literature
  • Attend political rallies and fundraisers
  • Volunteer for a campaign

They can also run for office in a nonpartisan campaign, such as for a seat on a school board.

Career Senior Executive Service employees are under a few additional restrictions. Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees, such as the NRC Chairman and Commissioners, have their own specific rules.

Penalties can range from being reprimanded to being fired to being fined up to $1,000.

More information about what NRC and other federal government workers can and cannot do related to elections can be found here.

 

Back to Basics – Seeking Comment on a New Commission Public Meeting Policy

Lance Rakovan
Senior Communications Specialist

We are always looking to make our public meetings better. To that end, we’ve drafted a new Commission policy statement on public meetings and are seeking public comment to make sure it hits the mark. The new policy statement is meant to re-affirm the importance of public participation in NRC’s public meetings and address a number of concerns noted previously by the public and NRC staff.

audienceFirst, some background. The NRC has had a formal policy regarding open meetings since 1978; the most recent revision was issued in 2002. The NRC assembled a task group on Enhancing NRC Public Meetings in June 2014. The task group recommended steps be taken to:

  • improve consistency of public meetings across the agency;
  • encourage increased management support for public interaction; and
  • seek out creative ways to effectively engage the public and promote participation.

In response to the task group’s report, the staff has begun implementing several enhancements to the existing public meeting process, including drafting the new policy statement.

The most significant proposed change to the policy statement is a revised meeting category system based on the level of public participation. The current categories of NRC public meetings are labeled 1, 2, and 3. Public participation levels for Category 1 and 2 meetings are essentially the same. However, public participation for a Category 3 meeting can range from the NRC simply engaging in dialogue with members of the public to receiving comments from the public (and responding later).

This has sometimes led to confusion over what to expect from a public meeting. The revised categorization system removes the 1, 2, and 3 labels and incorporates a clear description of the level of public participation planned for the meeting:

  • Observation Meeting
  • Information Meeting With Q&A
  • Commenting-Gathering Meeting

We hope these revised categories will help you prepare for and participate in NRC public meetings and will make more clear what you can expect. The table below compares the current categories to the proposed new categories. blog-capture_small

The NRC will be hosting a public meeting via webinar on September 29, 2016, to provide information and answer questions to help those interested in submitting comments. Formal comments, though, won’t be accepted during the meeting. To provide your comments on the draft statement, go here. Comments will be accepted until November 14, 2016.

Five Questions with Ivonne Couret

Ivonne Couret is a public affairs officer, who oversees the production of the Information Digest

5 questions_9with boxHow would you describe your job in three sentences or less?
I’m a public affairs officer in the headquarters office at the NRC, where I handle public and media relations. As the agency has expanded its social media engagement, my focus has turned to visual communication and producing YouTube videos that promote the understanding of who we are and what we do as an agency. I’m also the project manager for the NRC Information Digest, which provides information about the agency and the industries we regulate.

What is the single most important thing that you do at work?

I believe the most important thing I do at the NRC is managing the annual production and distribution of the Information Digest, one of the agency’s most popular publications. It is packed with easy-to read descriptions about the agency and its responsibilities and activities, while providing general information on nuclear-related topics and data. The Digest includes many infographics that help explain the data and information. I organize the approval and review schedule, propose new conceptual approaches that reflect agency mission, activities and goals, and plan its distribution. I also promote it during the annual Regulatory Information Conference and at other public meetings and information venues. The latest Information Digest has just been published and is available here. I’m very proud of this year’s edition.

ivonne_digestWhat is the single biggest challenge you face?

One of the biggest challenges is working with technical and program staff to understand the advantages of visual communication. Today, many organizations are seeing the benefit of using visual techniques to present information. They can be a more effective way to exchange information, and assist in “telling a story.” We achieve a more meaningful information exchange when a reader sees graphs, pictures and diagrams in addition to text. And complex information, data and figures can be more easily presented via graphs, pictures and diagrams.

If you could change one thing at the NRC or within the nuclear industry, what would it be?

I would have the scientific and technical staff (in the industry and at the NRC) learn to explain complex concepts in simpler terms. It would be great if everyone could explain things like Bill Nye, the Science Guy, on how things work using those easy-to-follow techniques. This type of communication would make it much easier for the non-technical public to more fully understand what we do.

What one thing about the NRC do you wish more people knew?

I wish more people understood how committed the NRC Public Affairs Office is to providing information in a format that the public can understand, as well as how hard we work to respond to inquiries in a timely manner. You can stay connected with us on our Blog, Facebook page, follow us on Twitter @NRCgov, watch us on YouTube and find pictures, graphs and maps on Flickr.

Yucca Mountain Documents Now Publicly Available – In a New Online Library

David McIntyre
Public Affairs Officer

The NRC is flipping the switch today on its new LSN Library — making nearly 3.7 million documents related to the adjudicatory hearing on the proposed Yucca Mountain repository available to the public.

yuccatunnelThe library makes the discovery documents by various parties to the hearing public for the first time in five years, and with enhanced search capabilities. The new LSN Library is part of the NRC’s online documents database, known as ADAMS. Although the NRC staff’s discovery documents were already publicly available in ADAMS, those materials have been incorporated into the LSN Library to permit “one-stop” searching for Yucca-related technical information.

Here’s the genesis of the new library: The NRC created the Licensing Support Network, or LSN, back in 2001, years before the Department of Energy submitted its application in 2008 for construction authorization for a high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain. The network was designed to allow easy access to the volumes of discovery documents that would support various aspects of the hearing.

The LSN was a database that required participants to house their documents on their own servers that were accessible for “crawling” by LSN software maintained by the NRC. This software created a document index. Participants and the public could search the index and generate a link to relevant documents on the participants’ home servers.

The LSN worked smoothly through the early stages of the hearing. But then the Department of Energy shut down the Yucca Mountain Project in 2010, and the NRC staff proceeded with an “orderly closure” of its review of DOE’s license application. As part of the orderly closure, an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel’s Construction Authorization Board suspended the hearing in September 2011. The LSN was closed down the previous month, with the CAB directing the parties (other than the NRC staff, whose documents were already public in ADAMS) to provide all their LSN documents to the NRC’s Office of the Secretary.

Then in August 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the NRC to resume its review of DOE’s Yucca Mountain application, using previously appropriated money from the Nuclear Waste Fund.

The Commission directed the staff to finish and publish its Safety Evaluation Report, the main technical review of the application. The staff published the final volumes in January 2015. Then the Commission directed the staff to prepare a supplement to DOE’s Environmental Impact Statement, covering certain groundwater issues that were not fully analyzed in the EIS. The staff issued the final supplement this past May.

Additionally, the Commission directed that if there was enough money remaining, the LSN documents should be made publicly available. As explained in a paper published August 12, that’s the work being completed now with activation of the LSN Library.

The library is significant for three reasons. First, it meets federal records requirements. Second, the library again provides public access to the previously-disclosed discovery materials should the Yucca Mountain adjudicatory hearing resume. Third, should the Yucca Mountain hearing not resume, the library will provide an important source of technical information for any future high-level waste repository licensing proceeding.

And of course, the library helps us meet the NRC’s goal of being an open and transparent regulator.

Five Questions With: Andrew Averbach

Andrew Averbach is the NRC’s Solicitor

  1. How would you describe your job in three sentences or less?5 questions_9with box

Under the supervision of the General Counsel, I’m responsible for the NRC’s federal court litigation – representing the NRC in the courts of appeals when the agency is sued about a rule or an adjudicatory order. When a case is filed against us, I’ll typically work with the attorney within OGC’s Legal Counsel division assigned to the case, as well as with the Department of Justice, to write the agency’s brief. Either the OGC attorney or I will argue the case in court. I also provide my views within OGC and to the Commission and the Office of Commission Appellate Adjudication as to how proposed courses of action are likely to be viewed if they are challenged in court.

  1. What is the single most important thing that you do at work?

The single most important thing I do is working with OGC attorneys to articulate and defend the position of the Commission to federal courts. This typically involves defending the agency’s actions against complaints – some exaggerated, some that have at least an arguable legal or factual basis — that the agency has acted illegally or unreasonably.

  1. What is the single biggest challenge you face?andrew

The biggest challenge I face is explaining things in a way that provides reassurance to the courts the agency has thoroughly addressed whatever problem is being raised. The NRC has historically been regarded by the courts as an independent and highly competent agency, and the criticisms that underlie many of the cases brought against us often unfairly suggest otherwise. It requires a good deal of patience to absorb criticism of this type and to explain the agency’s view, without slipping into jargon. Very often this involves trying to explain why the complaints raised against the agency have been oversimplified or are misleading.

  1. If you could change one thing at the NRC or within the nuclear industry, what would it be?

Having a national strategy for the management of spent fuel nuclear fuel would certainly make defending the cases against us easier, as the uncertainty about what will happen to reactor sites over the long term undermines people’s willingness to accept the agency’s assurances of safety, no matter how justified they may be. Specific to the NRC, I would also like to impose a requirement that the salad bar in our cafeteria always have curried cauliflower; I am very disappointed on those days when it is removed.

  1. What one thing about the NRC do you wish more people knew?

I wish more people understood the depth of people’s commitment here to do the right thing. One of the things that’s disheartening in many of the legal briefs filed against us is the pervasive allegation that the agency has acted with an improper motive. On some level, that’s just the hyperbole that some people think is effective in court. However, on another level there’s an element of distrust out there that just doesn’t square up with the way that the agency goes about its work.

Five Questions is a new, occasional blog series in which we pose the same questions to NRC staff members from across the agency.

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