WASHINGTON -- Investigators warned last week of a potential national-security threat at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission resulting from a policy that does not penalize employees who fail to disclose criminal and financial improprieties.
The NRC inspector general urged the agency to establish "consequences" for employees who fail to report circumstances such as past arrests and chronic financial debt. It is unclear whether agency leaders plan to create disciplinary procedures for related lapses by its personnel, who can receive access to sensitive data or nuclear substances in the course of their work.
NRC employees "rarely comply with personnel reporting responsibilities" that require them in part to disclose if they are alcoholics or dealers of illegal drugs, the inspector general said in a report dated Sept. 12. The authors examined materials from 35 re-investigations of NRC employees, and found over two dozen files with evidence of incidents that "should have been reported" to NRC security officials, the document states.
"Certain types of information must be assiduously protected," the auditors warned. "When a person's actions show evidence of unreliability or untrustworthiness, questions arise [about] whether the person can be relied on to protect classified information."
Leaks of such data can result in death and "irreparable damage" to national security, they wrote. The report does not detail precise circumstances under which commission employees might receive access to sensitive materials.
The inspector general separately advised the commission to begin regularly reminding staffers of potentially compromising situations they must disclose. Employees presently only receive such a rundown immediately after are hired, according to the assessment.
Making sure that personnel take note of the reminders is also crucial, the report adds. "NRC issues many announcements," but the agency "does not track whether employees are actually reading the announcements issued," auditors said.
Senior NRC officials last week expressed "general agreement" with the auditors' recommendations, but the report does not indicate whether they plan to implement the moves. The IG office on Sept. 12 asked the commission's operations chief to report within 30 days on any actions being taken in response to the findings.