POGO has discovered that former Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioner Jeffrey Merrifield took his family on a $3,000 trip to Louisiana for a site visit to his new employer, the major nuclear power plant construction company Shaw Group. The trip was paid for by Shaw Group. However, Merrifield did not report the trip as a gift on his financial disclosures until two years after leaving the NRC to join the Shaw Group as a Senior Vice President. This junket took place four days after the NRC told its staff to implement recommendations that Commissioner Merrifield was central in crafting, and which directly benefitted the Shaw Group.
“Merrifield’s failure to make this 2007 trip public until August 2009 increases our curiosity about his speedy departure from the government,” says Peter Stockton, POGO Senior Investigator. “We’re also curious about exactly when he started communications with Shaw.” POGO’s sources have said they believe Merrifield began communications with Shaw as early as six weeks to two months before the end of his term.
It was only after POGO requested copies of Merrifield’s Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure reports from the NRC in August 2009 that Merrifield amended his report to include the trip. According to Merrifield, he had “inadvertently” left out the information about his four day job-search visit when filling out the report in July 2007, a few weeks after the trip. Disclosures are important “so that an informed judgment can be made with respect to compliance with applicable conflict of interest laws and standards of conduct regulations.”
In 2007, POGO requested that the NRC investigate whether Merrifield complied with rules that apply to government employees seeking work in the private sector, as well as lobbying and representational prohibitions. Merrifield retained a Philadelphia attorney to search out employment opportunities on his behalf, and told Bloomberg news there was a “Chinese wall” between the two of them.
“It’s unclear whether Merrifield followed procedures that require federal employees to recuse themselves from matters affecting their future employment,” says POGO Investigator Ingrid Drake. Merrifield represented the NRC in its cooperative agreements with China at a time when he was considering employment with the Shaw Group, which has extensive business relations in China, including a $5-billion joint venture to build four nuclear power plants in China. If there is proof that Merrifield intentionally withheld information from his disclosure reports, he would be subject to criminal actions or civil penalties of up to $11,000 in fines.
POGO anticipates more information as a result of resubmitting its FOIA request to the NRC, which had been denied because of the IG’s ongoing investigation into Merrifield. For a detailed timeline, please see POGO’s Timeline of Former Commissioner Jeffrey Merrifield’s NRC Employment and Post-Employment.