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Project on Government Oversight

POGO Letter to NRC Chairman Klein concerning former NRC Commissioner Merrifield departure through the revolving door

Related Content: Nuclear Power, Revolving Door
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September 14, 2007

 

Dale E. Klein
Chairman
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
11555 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852

Via facsimile: (301) 415-1757

Dear Chairman Klein:

For many years, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has been concerned about how the revolving door between government and private industry thwarts policies and decisions that should protect the public. The American public will not have faith in their government if individuals use their public positions for private gain.

On July 11, 2007, the Shaw Group Inc. announced that former NRC Commissioner Jeffrey S. Merrifield would assume the position of Vice President of its Power Group. This announcement was just an extraordinarily short 12 days after Mr. Merrifield ended his term as NRC Commissioner on June 30, 2007. 

According to its web site, the Shaw Group Inc. “is the largest provider of commercial nuclear power plant maintenance and modification services in the United States with active contracts covering 40 operating units. . . . We have provided services to 95 percent of all U.S. nuclear plants. . . . Shaw is a leading force in nuclear new plant design and construction.”

The announcement was particularly astonishing given that Mr. Merrifield had championed several major policy initiatives in 2007 which directly benefitted his future employer. For example, on April 17,  2007, the Commission approved a final rulemaking which had been championed by Mr. Merrifield to ease environmental and oversight restrictions for construction activities at nuclear power plants. Few companies stood to benefit more from this “Limited Work Authorizations” rule than the Shaw Group.

On June 25, 2007, the Commission approved the recommendations of the Combined License Review Task Force, which was chaired by Mr. Merrifield. The Task Force’s recommendations were very favorable to the nuclear industry in its efforts to gain faster approval for new nuclear plant construction. The recommendations included efforts to scale back the ability of the public to participate in decisions concerning license applications by cutting down on public hearings and scaling back public comment periods.

In short, Mr. Merrifield served as the handmaiden of the nuclear power industry for many months before cashing in on a job working for the very industry he was supposedly regulating. Unfortunately, existing revolving door rules fail to prevent such abuses from taking place. Mr. Merrifield’s example provides a case study for why the rules need to be strengthened.

Several narrow rules do apply to government employees seeking work in the private sector. According to the Office of Government Ethics, employees cannot work on matters that will affect the financial interests of someone with whom they are seeking employment (18 U.S.C. § 208). According to Bloomberg News, in 2006 Mr. Merrifield retained a Philadelphia attorney searching out employment opportunities on his behalf. Mr. Merrifield told Bloomberg there was a “Chinese wall” between the two men.  It is unclear whether Mr. Merrifield followed appropriate procedures that require employees to recuse themselves from matters affecting their future employment. Additionally, there are lobbying and representational prohibitions that must be followed. 18 U.S.C. § 207.

Given his central involvement with a decision that benefited a major nuclear power plant construction company, the Shaw Group Inc., and his speedy departure from the government to go work for that company, the NRC should thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding Mr. Merrifield’s actions. POGO has already brought this particular case to the attention of the NRC Office of the Inspector General.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Danielle Brian
Executive Director

cc:
Inspector General Hubert P. Bell
House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell
House Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member Joe Barton
House Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak
House Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Ed Whitfield
 

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