Committee Chairmans Questions Security Clearance for Energy Official
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration’s failed nominee to head the nation’s atomic weapons production told Congress statements ″contradicted by the facts,″ a House committee chairman told the secretary of energy on Thursday.
Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote Secretary James Watkins questioning the qualifications of Victor Stello Jr. to hold a security clearance.
The department said it had no intention of withdrawing Stello’s clearance.
Stello in April withdrew his name from consideration to become assistant secretary of energy for defense programs and was appointed to a lesser position in that section of the department that does not require Senate confirmation, but nonetheless oversees efforts to restart plutonium-producing reactors in South Carolina.
″We do not question Mr. Stello’s loyalty to this country. Nevertheless, in view of the derogatory information now in the possession of the department ... Mr. Stello may not be qualified″ to hold a high security job, Dingell wrote.
Dingell’s letter noted that the Energy Department’s requirement for high- security jobs bans an individual who is ″not honest, reliable, or trustworthy, and there is no adequate evidence of rehabilitation or reform.″
Dingell his committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee, which he also chairs, had learned that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s inspector general found that Stello made contradictory statements to Congress and to NRC investigators.
During the Bush administration’s 10-month fight to win Senate confirmation of Stello, he was attacked for alleged improper behavior during parts of his 24 years with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has jurisdiction over civilian nuclear reactors.
Among the accusations against him was that he altered agency rules at the request of nuclear utilities, to the detriment of safety, and that he authorized cash payments to an informer as part of a personal vendetta within the commission staff.
Stello was the commission’s chief staff official, executive director for operations, before he went to the Energy Department on temporary assignment last July after Bush nominated him for the weapons chief’s job.
Dingell called the inspector general’s report ″disturbing,″ and asked Watson to advise the committee by July 13 whether Stello would maintain access to classified information.
Energy Department spokesman Tom Olson said the agency had no plans to withdraw Stello’s security clearance and that it disagreed with Dingell’s reading of the inspector general’s report.
″We’re very familiar with the facts of the case. The facts have been aired a nuber of times. There’s nothing in the report that shows that there is any reason to believe that he’s been dishonest,″ Olson said.
Stello has just under gone several security checks and investigations, Olson said.