In September, nearly four dozen U.S. Inspectors General signed a letter to Congressional committee leaders protesting the lack of transparency and access to material needed for their watchdog investigations. Yet it’s not usually inaccessible information that cuts the impact of the Inspectors. It’s the indifference of their parent agencies and Congress to the important findings they do produce.
Consider the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Inspector General, which reported that NRC’s failure to flag construction project changes at Southern California Edison’s San Onofre nuclear plant – tied to steam generator malfunctions – led to the site’s shutdown.
Not the first time
The incident at San Onofre was not a first. In October of 2013 the NRC’s IG reported the agency was failing to adequately regulate “active component aging” at nuclear plants nationwide, and recommended ways to improve oversight. Serious stuff, tied to heightened risks of reactor shutdowns, safety equipment failures and other potential safety risks. Yet in July of this year the IG had to issue a stern written warning to the NRC that its response to the report had been too dismissive. In 2007, the NRC’s IG warned the NRC it was then seven years overdue in addressing recommendations to improve safety oversight of uranium fuel production centers and other “major fuel cycle facilities.”
It’s part of a broader problem. In early 2009, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform reported that 13,800 IG recommendations made in reports from 2001 through 2008 had not been implemented, costing the nation $26 billion in identified savings. In a new version of that report issued in 2013, the totals jumped to 17,000 IG recommendations not fully implemented, at a cost of $67 billion.
Where do numbers like this come from? A few clues.