Waxman breaks own rule by outing whistleblower at NRC hearing

John Rossomando Contributor
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California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman was among the loudest proponents of whistleblower protections during the Bush years  ̶  particularly when the subject was the Iraq war  ̶  but GOP staffers say his attitude seems to have changed with the shift to a Democratic administration.

Waxman spoke out loudly for protecting whistleblowers from “incompetent management” and for getting them to report “national security abuses to Members of Congress” in a March 2007 floor speech defending the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.

“This legislation includes an important provision that will help check the growing problem of political interference with science,” Waxman said in his floor speech at the time. “It gives explicit provisions to protect the federal employee who reports instances where federal scientific research is suppressed or distorted for political reasons.

“We ought to protect scientists from those who would try to suppress or distort their scientific work.”

But senior GOP staffers say Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, violated his own principles during his questioning of Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), regarding his decision to shut down his agency’s work on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository last October, at a committee hearing last week.

Waxman chose to ignore a large stamp stating “NOT FOR PUBLIC DISCLOSURE” on a series of emails between Dan Graser, the data manager for the NRC’s Yucca Mountain licensing program, and Judge Roy Hawkins, the chief administrative judge of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, and made their content public.

Graser suggested in the emails that Jaczko had acted illegally in deciding to suspend work on the project. The comments contained in these emails echo comments Illinois GOP Rep. John Shimkus, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy and power subcommittee, gave The Daily Caller late last month, which Waxman likewise specifically referenced in the hearing.

Graser’s allegations have been corroborated by other senior NRC staffers in documents provided to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Graser also alleged in a Sept. 7, 2010 email that Jaczko, a former staffer of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, was stonewalling the publication of the third phase of the Safety Evaluation Report before the November midterm elections to ensure that Reid would not get “bad news” before his own hotly contested reelection bid.

Reid has been among the strongest opponents of Yucca Mountain. The project has also been met with strong opposition from other members of the Nevada congressional delegation, such as Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, who say the site is geologically unsafe and that the science supporting the use of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository is unsound, among other arguments.

Committee staffers say Waxman’s outing of Graser at the hearing could threaten their investigation of Jaczko’s actions as NRC chairman.

“There is a concern Waxman’s outing of a potential whistleblower will have a chilling effect on the investigation and intimidate others from coming forward,” an Energy and Commerce Committee staffer told TheDC. “We explicitly asked Mr. Waxman’s staff not to disclose the documents or out the potential whistleblower to the world.

“It is outrageous to think a committee hearing could be used to intimidate potential whistleblowers and work to discredit and trivialize evidence of wrongdoing,” the staffer continued. “The stakes could not be higher as the investigation is directly related to our country’s nuclear safety and national security. We cannot allow the integrity of our investigation to be threatened.”

Waxman’s staff did not respond to TheDC’s request for comments.