Auditors Urge NRC to Tighten Personnel Security Checks

Diane Barnes, Global Security Newswire
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Diane Barnes, Global Security Newswire
Sept. 19, 2013, 11:02 a.m.

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.

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