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Project on Government Oversight

POGO Suggests Improvements to the NRC’s Office of Investigations’ Process for Interviewing Nuclear Power Plant Employees who have Safety and Security Concerns

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April 22, 2008

Epilogue:

Following the NRC’s April 22, 2008 letter, on April 23, POGO had a teleconference with NRC staff, including the Office of Investigations, the Office of Enforcement, and Office of General Counsel. POGO presented possible alternatives to the current practice of having the contractor/licensee’s legal counsel present during the NRC’s Office of Investigations’ interviews with power plant employees, which can cause a chilling effect that counsel does not represent the interests of the interviewee, but rather the contractor/licensee. POGO suggested that NRC change its policy so that power plant employees are not represented by a contractor/licensee’s company counsel at NRC interviews, but instead the employees are given the opportunity to choose to be accompanied by a friend, a union official, or an attorney of the officer’s choosing, which the contractor/licensee pays for. Based on POGO’s conversations with safety and security employees at numerous nuclear power plants, POGO believes that this small policy change can reduce a potential conflict of interest and remove a source of intimidation from employees participating in an NRC investigation, while not creating any additional burdens for the NRC, nor incurring substantially greater costs for the licensee/contractor. Following the meeting, NRC staff let POGO know via email that they understood our recommendation. We hope to see NRC take action on this matter soon.

As a resource to its staff, POGO had also sent NRC “Steps to a better interviewing process" (see below). POGO developed this resource through years of developing working relationships with nuclear power plant employees.

Steps to a better interviewing process:

1. Start with a source.

2. Contact the source at home. Give them the choice of being anonymous or not.

3. Interview them off-site.

4. Ask them to suggest other sources.

5. Interview the other sources off-site.

6. When you start interviewing the company, the source has a right to an attorney. As an alternative, they can bring a friend or union official.  

a. If they want an attorney, they cannot have a company attorney because that attorney is not there to protect the interests of the individual but the corporation.

b. If the source feels they need an attorney, they should be able to hire an attorney who is paid for by the licensee.

7. It should be made clear to the corporation that it is not to question the individual or their attorney about the substance of the NRC interview. If they do, the individual should report back to the NRC immediately. 

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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