Nuclear regulator broke rules, says inspector general

Nuclear regulator broke rules, says inspector general
Nuclear regulator broke rules, says inspector general
Ex-official said to have sought jobs from firms while on panel
By Steven MufsonWashington Post Staff WriterThursday, October 29, 2009 A former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission violated government ethics rules bydirectly contacting potential employers with business before the NRC before the end of his termin mid-2007, according to a report by the commission’s inspector general.
Jeffrey S. Merrifield twice cast votes on matters involving companies he had contacted about jobprospects, the report says. The firms -- the Shaw Group, Toshiba’s Westinghouse Electric andGeneral Electric -- “could potentially have benefited financially from his votes . . . during thespecific timeframes in which Merrifield was negotiating with the three companies,” the reportconcludes.
In addition, the NRC’s inspector general’s report says that Merrifield had called a senior executive at Exelon, a Chicago-based utility, and asked theexecutive to call companies that were not returning phone calls to Merrifield’s attorney, who was trying to negotiate jobs on Merrifield’s behalf.
Merrifield, who served on the NRC from 1998 to 2007, is now a senior vice president of the Shaw Group, a construction firm that providesservices to most nuclear reactor projects.
“My job search had no impact on any decision I made as a Commissioner of the NRC,” Merrifield said in an e-mail Wednesday. “Subject to theguidance I received from attorneys from the NRC Office of the General Counsel and my own personal staff, I sought to comply with all regulationsand laws applicable to government employees seeking work in the private sector.” He said he was proud of his 18 1/2 “faithful years” of workingfor the federal government.
One of the two votes in question in the report involved approval of a plan by Shaw to cooperate with China on a Westinghouse Electric nuclearreactor model. The other was to approve a change in the criteria for emergency cooling systems, which could also affect work done by Shaw.
The inspector general’s report says it had “determined that Merrifield did not take effective measures to prevent a potential conflict of interestduring the last 2 months of his term.” It added that even though Merrifield arranged for a close friend and lawyer to pursue jobs on his behalf,“Merrifield stopped following this arrangement prior to the end of his term and began negotiating directly with potential employers.” Merrifield also failed to report $3,552.47 of reimbursed travel expenses for him and his family, most of which he received after accepting a jobwith Shaw but just prior to the end of his term at the end of June 2007, the report says.
The inspector general’s investigation was undertaken in response to allegations by the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdoggroup. Its executive director, Danielle Brian, sent a letter Wednesday to NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko asking him to bar Merrifield fromcommunicating with the NRC for the maximum time allowable and to refer the case to the Justice Department for civil action.
Brian said that the NRC should show that officials “will be held accountable for violating their public responsibility and potentially misusing theirpublic post for private gain.” View all comments that have been posted about this article.
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