• Summary of Document
  • These pages from the Federal Register are also available in Adobe Acrobat
    [Federal Register: May 10, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 89)]
    [Rules and Regulations]               
    [Page 24936-24942]
    From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
    [DOCID:fr10my99-3]
    
    =======================================================================
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------
    
    NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION
    
    10 CFR Part 9
    
    RIN 3150-AB94
    
     
    Government in the Sunshine Act Regulations
    
    AGENCY: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
    
    ACTION: Final rule: Notice of intent to implement currently effective 
    rule and request for comments.
    
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------
    
    SUMMARY: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Commission) is announcing 
    its intent to implement a final rule, published and made effective in 
    1985, that amended its regulations applying the Government in the 
    Sunshine Act. The Commission is taking this action to provide an 
    opportunity for public comment on its intent because of the time that 
    has passed since the Commission last addressed this issue. This action 
    is necessary to complete resolution of this issue.
    
    DATES: The May 21, 1985, interim rule became effective May 21, 1985. 
    Submit comments by June 9, 1999. Unless the Commission takes further 
    action, non-Sunshine Act discussions may be held beginning June 1, 
    1999 July 1, 1999.
    
    ADDRESSES: Submit written comments to: Secretary, U.S. Nuclear 
    Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001, ATTN: Rulemakings and 
    Adjudications Staff.
    
    FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Trip Rothschild, Assistant General 
    Counsel, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory 
    Commission, Washington, D.C. 20555, (301) 415-1607.
    
    SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Commission, through this notice of the 
    Commission's intent to implement a rule published and made effective in 
    1985, seeks to bring closure to a rulemaking that amended the NRC's 
    regulations applying the Government in the Sunshine Act. Because of the 
    years that have elapsed, the Commission is providing this notice of its 
    intent to implement this rule and is providing an opportunity for 
    additional public comment on the Commission's proposal to implement.
        The purpose of the rule is to bring the NRC's Sunshine Act 
    regulations, and the way they are applied by NRC, into closer 
    conformity with Congressional intent, as set forth in the legislative 
    history of the Sunshine Act and as clarified in a unanimous Supreme 
    Court decision, FCC v. ITT World
    
    [[Page 24937]]
    
    Communications, 466 U.S. 463 (1984). The NRC's original Sunshine Act 
    regulations, adopted in 1977, treated every discussion of agency 
    business by three or more Commissioners, no matter how informal or 
    preliminary it might be, as a ``meeting'' for Sunshine Act purposes. As 
    the 1984 Supreme Court decision made clear, however, ``meetings,'' to 
    which the Act's procedural requirements apply, were never intended to 
    include casual, general, informational, or preliminary discussions, so 
    long as the discussions do not effectively predetermine final agency 
    action. These kinds of ``non-Sunshine Act discussions,'' which can be 
    an important part of the work of a multi-member agency, had been 
    foreclosed at NRC since 1977 by the agency's unduly restrictive 
    interpretation of the Sunshine Act.
        In response to the Supreme Court's clarification of the law, the 
    Commission in 1985 issued an immediately effective rule that revised 
    the definition of ``meeting'' in the NRC's Sunshine Act regulations. To 
    ensure strict conformity with the law, the new NRC rule incorporated 
    verbatim the Supreme Court's definition of ``meeting.'' The rule change 
    drew criticism, however, much of it directed at the fact that it was 
    made immediately effective, with an opportunity to comment only after 
    the fact. To address some of the concerns raised, the NRC informed the 
    Congress that it would not implement the rule until procedures were in 
    place to monitor and keep minutes of all non-Sunshine Act discussions 
    among three or more Commissioners. No such procedures were ever 
    adopted, however, nor was the rule itself implemented, and the issue 
    remained pending from 1985 on.
        The Commission believes that it is time to bring the issue of the 
    NRC's Sunshine Act rules to a resolution. As noted, because of the many 
    years that have passed since the Commission last addressed this issue, 
    the NRC is providing this notice of its intent finally to implement and 
    use the 1985 rule, and providing 30 days for public comment on the 
    Commission's proposal to implement. The Commission will not modify its 
    current practices, under which no non-Sunshine Act discussions take 
    place, until it has had the opportunity to consider any comments 
    received.
    
    I. Background
    
        On April 30, 1984, the United States Supreme Court issued its first 
    decision interpreting the Government in the Sunshine Act, Federal 
    Communications Commission v. ITT World Communications, 466 U.S. 463. 
    Though the case could have been decided on narrow, fact-specific 
    grounds, the Court used the opportunity to offer guidance on what 
    leading commentators have described as ``one of the most troublesome 
    problems in interpreting the Sunshine Act'': the definition of 
    ``meeting'' as that term is used in the Act. R. Berg and S. Klitzman, 
    An Interpretive Guide to the Government in the Sunshine Act (1978), at 
    3. The Court rejected the broad view of the term ``meeting'' that the 
    U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit had taken. 
    It declared that the statutory definition of a ``meeting'' contemplated 
    ``discussions that `effectively predetermine official actions.' '' The 
    Court went on:
    
        Such discussions must be ``sufficiently focused on discrete 
    proposals or issues as to cause or be likely to cause the individual 
    participating members to form reasonably firm positions regarding 
    matters pending or likely to arise before the agency.'' 466 U.S. at 
    471.
    
        The Court reviewed the legislative history, demonstrating how in 
    the process of revising the original bill, Congress had narrowed the 
    Act's scope. In the Court's words, ``the intent of the revision clearly 
    was to permit preliminary discussion among agency members.'' Id. at 
    471, n.7. The Court explained Congress's reasons for limiting the reach 
    of the Sunshine Act:
    
        Congress in drafting the Act's definition of ``meeting'' 
    recognized that the administrative process cannot be conducted 
    entirely in the public eye. ``[I]nformal background discussions 
    [that] clarify issues and expose varying views'' are a necessary 
    part of an agency's work. [Citation omitted.] The Act's procedural 
    requirements effectively would prevent such discussions and thereby 
    impair normal agency operations without achieving significant public 
    benefit. Section 552b(a)(2) therefore limits the Act's application. 
    * * *
    
    Id. at 469-70.
        At the time the Supreme Court handed down the ITT decision, the 
    Nuclear Regulatory Commission had for almost eight years applied the 
    Government in the Sunshine Act as though it required every discussion 
    of agency business to be conducted as a ``meeting.'' Recognizing that 
    the Supreme Court's guidance indicated that the NRC's interpretation of 
    ``meeting'' had been unduly broad, the NRC's Office of the General 
    Counsel (OGC) advised the Commissioners in May 1984 that the decision 
    seemed significant: the decision was unanimous and it was the first 
    time that the Supreme Court had addressed the Act. OGC suggested that 
    revisions in the NRC's regulations might be appropriate to bring the 
    NRC into line with Congressional intent.
        Soon after that, in August 1984, the Administrative Conference of 
    the United States (a body, since abolished, to which the Sunshine Act 
    assigned a special role in the implementation of the Act by federal 
    agencies) issued Recommendation 84-3, based upon an extensive study of 
    the Sunshine Act. The Administrative Conference was troubled by what it 
    saw as one harmful effect of the Act on the functioning of the multi-
    member agencies. Commenting that ``one of the clearest and most 
    significant results of the Government in the Sunshine Act is to 
    diminish the collegial character of the agency decision making 
    process,'' the Administrative Conference recommended that Congress 
    consider whether the Act should be revised. The Conference observed:
    
        Although the legislative history indicates Congress believed 
    that, after the initial period of adjustment, Sunshine would not 
    have a significant inhibiting effect on collegial exchanges, 
    unfortunately this has not been the case.
    
        If Congress decided that revisions were in order, the Conference 
    said, it recommended that agency members be permitted to discuss ``the 
    broad outlines of agency policies and priorities'' in closed meetings. 
    The Administrative Conference did not address the distinction between 
    ``meetings'' and those discussions that are outside the scope of the 
    Act.
    
    II. The NRC's 1985 Rule
    
        On May 21, 1985 (50 FR 20889), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission 
    issued new regulations implementing the Government in the Sunshine Act. 
    As a legal matter, the NRC could have continued to use the language of 
    its existing regulations, and reinterpreted them in accordance with the 
    Supreme Court's decision. However, the NRC decided that in the interest 
    of openness, it should declare explicitly that its view of the Act's 
    requirements had changed in light of the Court's ruling.
        The revised rule conforms the definition of ``meeting'' in the 
    Commission's rules to the guidance provided by the Supreme Court by 
    incorporating the very language of the Court's decision into its 
    revised definition. Specifically, it provides, at 10 CFR 9.101(c):
    
        Meeting means the deliberations of at least a quorum of 
    Commissioners where such deliberations determine or result in the 
    joint conduct or disposition of official Commission business, that 
    is, where discussions are sufficiently focused on discrete proposals 
    or issues as to cause or to
    
    [[Page 24938]]
    
    be likely to cause the individual participating members to form 
    reasonably firm positions regarding matters pending or likely to 
    arise before the agency. Deliberations required or permitted by 
    Secs. 9.105. 9.106, or 9.108(c) do not constitute ``meetings'' 
    within this definition.
    
        Under the rule, which was adopted as an immediately effective 
    ``interim'' rule (it was characterized as ``interim'' to reflect the 
    fact that it was being made effective before any comments were received 
    and addressed), with an opportunity for public comment, briefings were 
    excluded from the category of ``meetings.'' In the NRC's pre-1985 
    regulations, by contrast, briefings were treated as meetings, as a 
    matter of policy.
        The NRC's 1985 rule proved controversial. In response to 
    Congressional criticism, much of it directed at the Commission's 
    decision to make the rule immediately effective, the Commission assured 
    the Congress that it would conduct no non-Sunshine Act discussions 
    until procedures were in place to govern such discussions.
        In December 1985, the NRC's Office of the General Counsel forwarded 
    a final rulemaking paper in which comments on the interim rule were 
    analyzed and responded to. However, by the time that the Commission was 
    briefed on the comments, the American Bar Association had announced its 
    intention to address Sunshine Act issues, including matters directly 
    related to the NRC's rulemaking. The Commission therefore decided to 
    withhold action on the matter and to defer actual implementation and 
    use of the 1985 rule pending receipt of the ABA's views.
    
    III. The American Bar Association Acts
    
        In the fall of 1985, William Murane, Chairman of the Administrative 
    Law Section of the American Bar Association, announced that the Council 
    of the Administrative Law Section had decided to involve itself in the 
    controversy over the Sunshine Act and its effect on the collegial 
    character of agency decision making. Administrative Law Review, Fall 
    1985, Vol. 37, No. 4, at p. v. The Task Force established by the 
    Administrative Law Section ultimately focused on a single issue: the 
    definition of ``meeting'' under the Sunshine Act. Its report and 
    recommendations were accepted by the Administrative Law Section in 
    April 1986 and by the full American Bar Association in February 1987.
        The ABA's recommendation and report confirmed that the Commission's 
    reading of the Sunshine Act, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the 
    ITT decision, was legally correct. Moreover, the legal standard set 
    forth in the ABA recommendation incorporated the identical language 
    from the Supreme Court opinion which the NRC had included in its 1985 
    rule: i.e., the provision stating that for a discussion to be exempt 
    from the definition of ``meeting,'' it must be ``[not] sufficiently 
    focused on discrete proposals or issues as to cause or be likely to 
    cause the individual participating [agency] members to form reasonably 
    firm positions regarding matters pending or likely to arise before the 
    agency.'' Subject to that qualification, the ABA guidelines provide 
    that the definition of ``meeting'' does not include:
    
        (a) Spontaneous casual discussions among agency members of a 
    subject of common interest; (b) Briefings of agency members by staff 
    or outsiders. A key element would be that the agency members be 
    primarily receptors of information or views and only incidentally 
    exchange views with one another; (c) General discussions of subjects 
    which are relevant to an agency's responsibilities but which do not 
    pose specific problems for agency resolution; and (d) Exploratory 
    discussions, so long as they are preliminary in nature, there are no 
    pending proposals for agency action, and the merits of any proposed 
    agency action would be open to full consideration at a later time. 
    <SUP>1</SUP>
    
        \1\ A fuller description of the types of discussions fitting in 
    these four categories may be found at pages 9 to 11 of the ABA 
    report.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    
        The ABA report disposed of the suggestion, advanced by some critics 
    of the NRC's interim rule, ``that the Supreme Court's opinion should be 
    limited to the facts before the Court.'' While it recognized that the 
    case could have been decided on fact-specific grounds, the report 
    observed that:
    
        [I]t cannot be assumed that the Supreme Court got carried away 
    or that it was unaware that the definition of ``meeting'' was 
    controversial and ``one of the most troublesome problems in 
    interpreting the Sunshine Act.'' [Interpretive Guide 3.] We 
    concluded therefore, that the Supreme Court meant what it said in 
    ITT World Communications, and that it intended to provide guidance 
    to agencies and the courts in applying the definition of 
    ``meeting.'' Report at 7.
    
        The ABA report also rejected the argument that because of the 
    ``difficulty of specifying in advance those characteristics of a 
    particular discussion which will cause it to fall short of becoming a 
    meeting,'' the Supreme Court's view of the Act should not become part 
    of agency practice. [Emphasis in the original.] The logic of this 
    argument, said the ABA report, would permit no discussion whatever of 
    agency business except in ``meetings,'' a result which ``seems clearly 
    to us not to have been intended by Congress.'' Report at 8. The report 
    noted that this argument in essence was a claim that agencies should 
    apply a different standard from the one specified by Congress for 
    distinguishing ``meetings'' from discussions that are not ``meetings.'' 
    The ABA explained:
    
        * * * Congress can hardly have gone to such pains to articulate 
    a narrower standard had it not expected the agencies to use the 
    leeway such a standard provides, and if they are to do so, they must 
    attempt to set out in advance, whether by regulation or internal 
    guidelines, the elements or characteristics of a discussion which 
    will cause it to fall short of being a meeting. Report at 8, fn. 9.
    
        The ABA report's conclusion was a measured endorsement of the value 
    of non-Sunshine Act discussions. After stressing that its purpose was 
    not to urge agencies to close discussions now held in open session, the 
    report made clear that its focus, rather, was on the discussions which, 
    because of the Sunshine Act, are never initiated in the first place. It 
    said:
    
        But the fact is that the Sunshine Act has had an inhibiting 
    effect on the initiation of discussions among agency members. This 
    is the conclusion of the Welborn report [to the Administrative 
    Conference], and it is confirmed by our meeting with agency general 
    counsels * * * [T]he Act has made difficult if not impossible the 
    maintenance of close day-to-day working relationships in [five-
    member and three-member] agencies. * * * We believe that a sensible 
    and sensitive application of the principles announced in the ITT 
    case can ease the somewhat stilted relationships that exist in some 
    agencies. Report at 11-12. [Emphasis in the original.]
    
        The ABA report made clear that it did not regard the opportunity 
    for non-Sunshine Act discussions as a panacea for the Sunshine-caused 
    loss of collegiality which the Administrative Conference had 
    identified, and which the ABA's own inquiry had confirmed. The Report 
    concluded that the impact of loosened restrictions was likely to be 
    ``slight,'' though it saw ``some tendency to increase collegiality * * 
    * to the extent that it would contribute to more normal interpersonal 
    relationships among agency members.'' Report at 12. The Report also 
    observed that collegiality is most important in group decision-making 
    sessions, where the Act's ``meeting'' requirements clearly apply.
        The ABA report recommended that agencies follow procedures for the 
    monitoring and memorialization of non-Sunshine Act discussions to give 
    assurance to the public that they are staying within the law. The ABA 
    made clear that this was a policy recommendation, not a matter of legal 
    obligation. (The report noted at one
    
    [[Page 24939]]
    
    point that if a discussion ``is not a `meeting,' no announcement or 
    procedures are required because the Act has no application.'' Report at 
    6.) The ABA recommended that General Counsels brief agency members in 
    advance on the requirements of the law, to assure their familiarity 
    with the restrictions on non-Sunshine Act discussions, and that non-
    Sunshine Act discussions (other than ``spontaneous casual discussions 
    of a subject of common interest'') be monitored, either by the General 
    Counsel or other agency representatives, and memorialized through 
    notes, minutes, or recordings.
    
    IV. Further Developments
    
        On August 5, 1987, an amendment was offered to the NRC 
    authorization bill to bar the Commission from using any funds in fiscal 
    year 1988 or 1989 ``to hold any Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting 
    in accordance with the interim [Sunshine Act] rule [published in] the 
    Federal Register on May 21, 1985.'' 133 Cong. Rec. H7178 (Aug. 5. 
    1987).<SUP>2</SUP> As Chairman Philip Sharp of the Subcommittee on 
    Energy and Power of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce 
    explained, the amendment ``simply neutralizes a rule change.'' The 
    amendment, passed by a voice vote, was not passed by the Senate and 
    thus was not enacted into law.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    
        \2\ The text of the amendment and the colloquy surrounding its 
    adoption by the House of Representatives are also reprinted in full 
    in SECY-88-25.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    
        The Commission took no further action regarding the Sunshine Act 
    after 1985, and the issue was allowed to become dormant. While the 
    ``interim'' rule of 1985 has remained in effect and on the books, at 10 
    Code of Federal Regulations, Part 9, the Commission has continued to 
    apply its pre-1985 rules. Accordingly, all discussions of business by 
    three or more Commissioners have continued to be treated as 
    ``meetings,'' whether formal or informal, deliberative or 
    informational, decision-oriented or preliminary, planned or 
    spontaneous. No non-Sunshine Act discussions of any kind have been 
    held. In the meantime, some other agencies adopted and implemented 
    rules that permit informal discussions that clarify issues and expose 
    varying views but do not effectively predetermine official actions, 
    discussions of the sort that the Court's ITT decision said are a 
    ``necessary part of an agency's work.'' 466 U.S. at 469-70. See, for 
    example, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission's (OSHRC) 
    and Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board's (DNFSB) definitions of 
    ``meeting'', at 29 CFR 2203.2(d) (50 FR 51679; 1985) and 10 CFR 
    1704.2(d)(5) (56 FR 9609; 1991), respectively.
        In February 1995, Commissioner Steven M.H. Wallman of the 
    Securities and Exchange Commission, joined by twelve other 
    Commissioners or former Commissioners of four independent regulatory 
    agencies (the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal 
    Communications Commission, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 
    Federal Trade Commission), wrote to the Administrative Conference of 
    the United States to urge a reevaluation of the Sunshine Act. The group 
    expressed strong support for the Act's objective of ensuring greater 
    public access to agency decision-making, but questioned whether the 
    Act, as currently structured and interpreted, was achieving those 
    goals. The group said that the Act has a ``chilling effect on the 
    willingness and ability of agency members to engage in an open and 
    creative discussion of issues.'' It continued:
    
        In almost all cases, agency members operating under the Act come 
    to a conclusion about a matter * * * without the benefit of any 
    collective deliberations. [Footnote omitted.] This is directly in 
    conflict with the free exchange of views that we believe is 
    necessary to enable an agency member to fulfill adequately his or 
    her delegated duties, and to be held accountable for his or her 
    actions.
        We are also of the view that the Act is at odds with the 
    underlying principles of multi-headed agencies. These agencies were 
    created to provide a number of benefits, including collegial 
    decision making where the collective thought process of a number of 
    tenured, independent appointees would be better than one. 
    Unfortunately, the Act often turns that goal on its head, resulting 
    in greater miscommunication and poorer decision making by 
    precluding, as a matter of fact, the members from engaging in 
    decision making in a collegial way. As a result, the Act 
    inadvertently transforms multi-headed agencies into bodies headed by 
    a number of individually acting members. [Footnote omitted.]
    
        The group identified as one problem the issue confronted by the 
    NRC's 1985 rulemaking: that ``many agencies'' avoided the problem of 
    distinguishing between ``preliminary conversations, which are outside 
    of the Act, and deliberations, which trigger the Act,'' by a blanket 
    prohibition, as a matter of general policy, against any conversation 
    among a quorum of agency members, except in ``meetings'' under the 
    Sunshine Act. While such bright-line policies were easy to apply and 
    effective, the letter said, they were often over-inclusive, barring 
    discussion of even the most preliminary views and often impeding the 
    process of agency decision-making.
        The Administrative Conference, then soon to be abolished, took up 
    the group's challenge, assembled a special committee to study the 
    Sunshine Act, and convened a meeting in September, 1995, to discuss the 
    Act, its problems, and possible remedies. The Conference appeared to be 
    looking for some compromise, acceptable both to the Federal agencies 
    and to representatives of the media, that would acknowledge the Act's 
    impairment of the collegial process and try to remedy that by giving 
    greater flexibility to agencies in applying the Act. No consensus 
    developed, however. The Administrative Conference, apparently 
    recognizing that there would be no meeting of the minds between critics 
    and defenders of the Sunshine Act, did not pursue its efforts to find 
    common ground.
    
    V. Conclusions
    
        The Commission has taken into account information from a number of 
    quarters, as well as its own experience in implementing the Sunshine 
    Act. It has considered, among other things, the language of the statute 
    and its legislative history; the Supreme Court's decision in the ITT 
    case; Recommendation 84-3 of the Administrative Conference of the 
    United States; the findings of the American Bar Association; actual 
    practice at other federal agencies, including the DNFSB and OSHRC; and 
    the advice letter from numerous Commissioners and former Commissioners 
    of four other independent regulatory agencies.
        Based on all of these, the Commission believes that while the 
    Sunshine Act's objectives, which include increasing agency openness and 
    fostering public understanding of how the multi-member agencies do 
    business, are laudable, it is important to recognize exactly what it 
    was that Congress legislated. The legislative history, as the Supreme 
    Court explained, shows that Congress carefully weighed the competing 
    considerations involved: the public's right of access to significant 
    information, on the one hand, and the agencies' need to be able to 
    function in an efficient and collegial manner on the other. Congress 
    struck a balance: it did not legislate openness to the maximum extent 
    possible, nor did it provide unfettered discretion to agencies to offer 
    only as much public access as they might choose. Rather, it crafted a 
    system in which the Sunshine Act would apply only to ``meetings,'' a 
    term carefully defined to exclude preliminary, informal, and 
    informational discussions, and then provided a series of exemptions to 
    permit closure of certain
    
    [[Page 24940]]
    
    categories of ``meetings.'' Unfortunately, in part because of advice 
    from the Justice Department in 1977 that later proved to be erroneous, 
    the Commission's original Sunshine Act regulations did not give due 
    recognition to the balance contemplated by Congress. Rather, the 
    regulations mistakenly took the approach that every discussion among 
    three or more Commissioners, no matter how far removed from being 
    ``discussions that effectively predetermine official actions,'' in the 
    Supreme Court's words, should be considered a ``meeting.'' 466 U.S. at 
    471.
        At the time that the Commission changed its Sunshine Act rules in 
    1985, many of its critics appeared to believe that if the rule change 
    were implemented, numerous discussions currently held in public session 
    would instead be held behind closed doors. This was a misapprehension. 
    Indeed, if there is one point that needs to be emphasized above any 
    other, it is that the objective of the 1985 rule is not that 
    discussions heretofore held in public session should become non-
    Sunshine Act discussions; rather, the focus of the 1985 rule is on the 
    discussions that currently do not take place at all. This was also the 
    focus of the American Bar Association and the authors of the 1995 
    letter to the Administrative Conference.
        The Commission believes that non-Sunshine Act discussions can 
    benefit the agency and thereby benefit the public which the NRC serves. 
    This view did not originate with the Commission by any means. On the 
    contrary, as described above, the starting point of the Commission's 
    analysis is Congress's recognition that `` `informal background 
    discussions [that] clarify issues and expose varying views' are a 
    necessary part of an agency's work,'' and that to apply the Act's 
    requirements to them would, in the words of the Supreme Court, ``impair 
    normal agency operations without achieving significant public 
    benefit.'' 466 U.S. 463, 469.
        For convenience, the currently effective (but not implemented) 1985 
    rule is included in this notice and the Commission is providing 30 days 
    for public comment on its stated intent to implement the 1985 rule. No 
    non-Sunshine Act discussions will be held during the period for public 
    comment and for a 21-day period following close of the comment period 
    to allow the Commission to consider the public comments. Absent further 
    action by the Commission, non-Sunshine Act discussions may be held 
    commencing 21 days after the close of the comment period.
        From previous comments, the following are possible questions about 
    the 1985 rule, and the Commission's responses to those questions.
        1. What types of discussions does the Commission have in mind, and 
    what does it seek to accomplish with this rule?
        Answer: First and foremost, the Commission would like to be able to 
    get together as a body with no fixed agenda other than to ask such 
    questions as: ``How is the Commission functioning as an agency? How has 
    it performed over the past year? What have been its major successes and 
    failures? What do we see coming in the next year? In the next five 
    years, and ten years? How well are our components serving us? Are we 
    getting our message to the industry we regulate and to the public? Are 
    we working effectively with the Congress?'' This kind of ``big 
    picture'' discussion can be invaluable. One of the regrettable effects 
    of the Sunshine Act, as documented as long ago as 1984, in 
    Administrative Conference Recommendation 84-3, has been the loss of 
    collective responsibility at the agencies, and the shift of authority 
    from Presidentially appointed and accountable agency members to the 
    agencies' staffs. The Commission believes that ``big picture'' 
    discussions served a valuable function in pre-Sunshine Act days at NRC 
    and can do so again, helping to assure that the Commissioners serve the 
    public with maximum effectiveness and accountability.
        The Commission believes that some kinds of general, exploratory 
    discussions can be useful in generating ideas. Such ideas, if developed 
    into more specific proposals, will become the subject of subsequent 
    ``meetings.'' The Commission recognizes that it would be incumbent on 
    the participants in such non-Sunshine Act discussions to assure that 
    they remain preliminary and do not effectively predetermine final 
    agency action. The Commission believes that the guidelines proposed by 
    the American Bar Association are the most suitable criteria for 
    assuring compliance with the Act's requirements.
        The Commission also believes that spontaneous casual discussions of 
    matters of mutual interest--for example, a recent news story relating 
    to nuclear regulation--can be beneficial, helping both to ensure that 
    Commissioners are informed of matters relevant to their duties and to 
    promote sound working relationships among Commissioners.
        2. Is it really clear that the law permits non-Sunshine Act 
    discussions?
        Answer: Yes, beyond any reasonable doubt. Congress so provided, a 
    unanimous Supreme Court has so found, the American Bar Association Task 
    Force on the Sunshine Act agreed, the Council of the Administrative Law 
    Section of the American Bar Association adopted the Task Force's views, 
    and the ABA's full House of Delegates accepted the Administrative Law 
    Section's report and recommendation.
        3. Didn't the ITT case involve a trip to Europe by less than a 
    quorum of FCC members, and couldn't the case be viewed as relating to 
    those specific facts?
        Answer: The case was resolved on two separate grounds. Although the 
    Supreme Court did not have to reach the issue of what constitutes a 
    ``meeting'' under the Sunshine Act, it did so, in order (so the ABA 
    report concluded) to provide guidance to agencies and the courts on a 
    difficult aspect of Sunshine Act law. In addressing the ambiguity in 
    the definition of ``meeting'' and thus the uncertainty as to the Act's 
    scope, the Supreme Court was acting to resolve a problem that had been 
    apparent literally from the day of its enactment into law, as President 
    Ford's statement in signing the bill, on September 13, 1976, makes 
    clear. He wrote:
    
        I wholeheartedly support the objective of government in the 
    sunshine. I am concerned, however, that in a few instances 
    unnecessarily ambiguous and perhaps harmful provisions were included 
    in S.5. * * * The ambiguous definition of the meetings covered by 
    this act, the unnecessary rigidity of the act's procedures, and the 
    potentially burdensome requirement for the maintenance of 
    transcripts are provisions which may require modification. 
    Government in the Sunshine Act--S.5 (P.L. 94-409), Source Book: 
    Legislative History, Text, and Other Documents (1976), at 832.
    
        4. On the meaning of ``meeting'' as used in the Sunshine Act, 
    aren't the views of Congressional sponsors of the legislation entitled 
    to consideration?
        Answer: Yes, when they appear in the pre-enactment legislative 
    history. In the present case, for example, the Supreme Court cited the 
    remarks of the House sponsor of the Sunshine Act, Representative Dante 
    Fascell, who introduced the report of the Conference Committee to the 
    House. He explained to his colleagues that the conferees had narrowed 
    the Senate's definition of ``meeting'' in order ``to permit casual 
    discussions between agency members that might invoke the bill's 
    requirements'' under the Senate's approach. 122 Cong. Rec. 28474 
    (1976), cited at 466 U.S. 463, 470 n.7. Likewise, Senator Chiles, the 
    Senate sponsor of the bill, described the definition of ``meeting'' in 
    the final bill as a ``compromise version.'' 122 Cong. Rec. S15043 (Aug. 
    31, 1976), reprinted in
    
    [[Page 24941]]
    
    Government in the Sunshine Act Source Book. In any case, however, once 
    the Supreme Court has declared what the law requires, federal agencies 
    are bound to follow its guidance.
        5. Is there any basis in the legislative history for the notion 
    that non-Sunshine Act discussions are not only permissible, but useful?
        Answer: Yes. The point was made forcefully by Professor Jerre 
    Williams (subsequently a judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals), 
    presenting the views of the American Bar Association. He testified, in 
    Congressional hearings on the bill:
    
        One of the most critical facets of the American Bar Association 
    view has to do with the definition of ``meeting.'' The ABA firmly 
    agrees that policy must not be determined by informal closed-door 
    caucuses in advance of open meetings. On the other hand, however, 
    the ABA believes it important that ``chance encounters and 
    informational or exploratory discussions'' by agency members should 
    not constitute meetings unless such discussions are ``relatively 
    formal'' and ``predetermine'' agency action.
        It should be a matter of concern to all those interested in good 
    government that agency members be allowed to engage in informal work 
    sessions at which they may ``brainstorm'' and discuss various 
    innovative proposals without public evaluation or censorship of 
    their search for new and creative solutions in important policy 
    areas.
        All persons who have engaged in policymaking have participated 
    in such informal sessions. Sometimes outlandish suggestions are 
    advanced, hopefully humorous suggestions abound. But out of all this 
    may come a new, creative, important idea. There is time enough to 
    expose that idea to public scrutiny once it has been adequately 
    evaluated as a viable alternative which ought to be seriously 
    considered. [Emphasis added.] Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the 
    Committee on Government Operations, House of Representatives, 94th 
    Cong., First Session (Nov. 6 and 12, 1975), at 114-15.
    
        6. Why is the NRC paying so much attention to the ITT case and 
    ignoring the Philadelphia Newspapers case which dealt specifically with 
    NRC?
        Answer: First of all, the ITT case dealt with the issue of what is 
    a ``meeting,'' whereas Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. NRC, 727 F.2d 
    1195 (D.C. Cir. 1984). dealt with an unrelated issue: whether a 
    particular ``meeting'' could be closed under the Sunshine Act. 
    Secondly, the ITT case was decided by the Supreme Court, and as such 
    would be entitled to greater weight than the decision of one panel of a 
    Court of Appeals, even if they were on the same issue. Thirdly, the 
    full D.C. Circuit, sitting en banc, has severely criticized the 
    Philadelphia Newspapers decision for digressing from Congressional 
    intent and thereby reaching an ``untoward result.'' Clark-Cowlitz Joint 
    Operating Agency v. FERC, 798 F.2d 499, 503 n.5 (D.C. Cir. 1984).
        7. If it is so clear that non-Sunshine Act discussions are 
    permissible, why did the NRC interpret the Act differently for so many 
    years?
        Answer: In part, the answer lies in the fact that the Justice 
    Department, in the years 1977 to 1981, took an expansive view of the 
    definition of ``meeting.'' (See the letter from Assistant Attorney 
    General Barbara A. Babcock reprinted in the Interpretive Guide at p. 
    120.) In contrast, Berg and Klitzman, the authors of the Interpretive 
    Guide, believed that Congress had consciously narrowed the definition. 
    (See the Interpretive Guide at 6-7.) Because the Justice Department 
    defends Sunshine Act suits in the courts, its view of the law's 
    requirements carried considerable weight. The Supreme Court's decision 
    in the ITT case resolved the issue definitively.
        8. Didn't the NRC acknowledge in its 1977 rulemaking that it was 
    going beyond the law's requirements in the interest of the Act's 
    ``presumption in favor of opening agency business to public 
    observation''? Why isn't that rationale still applicable today?
        Answer: There are at least three factors today that were not 
    present in 1977: (1) the Supreme Court's ITT decision, which makes 
    clear that Congress gave the agencies authority to hold such 
    discussions because it thought they were an important part of doing the 
    public's business; (2) the Administrative Conference recommendation 
    stating that the Sunshine Act has had a much more deleterious effect on 
    the collegial nature of agency decision making than had been foreseen; 
    and (3) the American Bar Association report stating that Congress gave 
    the agencies the latitude to hold non-Sunshine Act discussions in the 
    expectation they would use it, and suggesting that the use of such 
    discussions might help alleviate some of the problems caused by the 
    Sunshine Act. Moreover, the Commission has had the benefit of its own 
    and other agencies' experience under the Act. It should be emphasized 
    that the Commission, by implementing this rule, is not implicitly or 
    explicitly urging that the Sunshine Act be altered; rather, it is 
    saying that the Sunshine Act should not be applied even more 
    restrictively than Congress intended when it enacted the statute.
        9. Why does the NRC put such reliance on the ABA report, when the 
    ABA made a point of saying that it was not urging the closing of any 
    meetings now open?
        Answer: The question misses the point of the ABA comment. In the 
    context in which the comment appears in the ABA report, it is clear 
    that the ABA was expressing its concern for the discussions that 
    currently do not happen at all, either in open or in closed session, 
    because the Sunshine Act inhibits the initiation of discussions. Its 
    point was similar to that made by Professor Williams in the hearings on 
    the bill in 1975, when he urged that agency members not be deprived of 
    the opportunity to generate ideas in ``brainstorming sessions''--ideas 
    which may subsequently be the subject of ``meetings'' if they turn out 
    to warrant formal consideration. As we have emphasized above, the 
    Commission is not proposing to close any meetings currently held as 
    open public meetings.
        10. How does the Commission intend to differentiate between 
    ``meetings'' and ``non-Sunshine Act discussions'?
        Answer: The Commission intends to abide by the guidance provided by 
    the Court in FCC v. ITT World Communications and contained in our 
    regulations, in differentiating between ``meetings'' and non-Sunshine 
    Act discussions. Applying this guidance, the Commission may consider 
    conducting a non-Sunshine Act discussion when the discussion will be 
    casual, general, informational, or preliminary, so long as the 
    discussion will not effectively predetermine final agency action. 
    Whenever the Commission anticipates that a discussion seems likely to 
    be ``sufficiently focused on discreet proposals or issues as to cause 
    the individual participating members to form reasonably firm positions 
    regarding matters pending or likely to arise before the agency,'' the 
    Commission will treat those discussions as ``meetings.'' See id. at 
    471.
        Further, to ensure that we appropriately implement the Supreme 
    Court guidance in differentiating between non-Sunshine Act discussions 
    and meetings, the Commission will consider the ABA's remarks on the 
    seriousness of this task. For instance, the ABA cautioned that a non-
    Sunshine Act discussion ``does not pose specific problems for agency 
    resolution'' and agency ``members are not deliberating in the sense of 
    confronting and weighing choices.'' Report at 9-11.
        Some specific examples of the kinds of topics that might be the 
    subject of non-Sunshine Act discussions would include generalized ``big 
    picture'' discussions on such matters as the following: ``How well is 
    the agency functioning, what are our successes and
    
    [[Page 24942]]
    
    failures, what do we see as major challenges in the next five and ten 
    years, what is the state of our relations with the public, industry, 
    Congress, the press?'
        Preliminary, exploratory discussions that generate ideas might 
    include, for example, ``Is there more that we could be doing through 
    the Internet to inform the public and receive public input? How does 
    our use of the Internet compare with what other agencies are doing?'' 
    Such ideas, if followed up with specific proposals, would become the 
    subject of later ``meetings'' within the meaning of the Sunshine Act.
        Spontaneous, casual discussions of matters of mutual interest could 
    include discussions of a recent news story relating to NRC-licensed 
    activities, or a Commissioner's insights and personal impressions from 
    a visit to a licensed facility or other travel. Under this heading, 
    three Commissioners would be permitted to have a cup of coffee together 
    and to talk informally about matters that include business-related 
    topics. Under the Commission's pre-1985 rule, such informal get-
    togethers were precluded.
        Briefings in which Commissioners are provided information but do 
    not themselves deliberate on any proposal for action could include 
    routine status updates from the staff.
        Discussions of business-related matters not linked to any 
    particular proposal for Commission action might include an upcoming 
    Congressional oversight hearing or a planned all-hands meeting for 
    employees.
        11. Apart from the issue of the definition of ``meeting,'' are 
    there other changes that the interested public should be aware of?
        Answer: Yes, one minor procedural point. The 1985 rule includes a 
    provision stating that transcripts of closed Commission meetings will 
    be reviewed for releasability only when there is a request from a 
    member of the public for the transcript. Reviewing transcripts for 
    releasability when no one is interested in reading them would be a 
    waste of agency resources and thus of the public's money.
        12. Will the Commission adopt any particular internal procedures 
    for its non-Sunshine Act discussions?
        Answer: For an initial 6-month period of non-Sunshine Act 
    discussions, the Commission will maintain a record of the date and 
    subject of, and participants in, any scheduled non-Sunshine Act 
    discussions that three or more Commissioners attend. After the six-
    month period, the Commission will revisit the usefulness of the record-
    keeping practice.
    
    List of Subjects in 10 CFR Part 9
    
        Criminal penalties, Freedom of information, Privacy, Reporting and 
    recordkeeping requirements, Sunshine Act.
    
        The May 21, 1985 (50 FR 20863), rule is currently effective but has 
    never been implemented. For the convenience of the reader, the 
    Commission is republishing the text of that rule.
    
    PART 9--PUBLIC RECORDS
    
        1. The authority citation for part 9 continues to read as follows:
    
        Authority: Sec. 161, 68 Stat. 948, as amended (42 U.S.C. 2201); 
    sec. 201, 88 Stat. 1242, as amended (42 U.S.C. 5841).
        Subpart A is also issued 5 U.S.C. ; 31 U.S.C 9701; Pub. L. 99-
    570. Subpart B is also issued under 5 U.S.C. 552a. Subpart C is also 
    issued under 5 U.S.C. 552b.
    
        2. In Sec. 9.101, paragraph (c) is republished for the convenience 
    of the reader as follows:
    
    
    Sec. 9.101  Definitions.
    
    * * * * *
        (c) Meeting means the deliberations of at least a quorum of 
    Commissioners where such deliberations determine or result in the joint 
    conduct or disposition of official Commission business, that is, where 
    discussions are sufficiently focused on discrete proposals or issues as 
    to cause or to be likely to cause the individual participating members 
    to form reasonably firm positions regarding matters pending or likely 
    to arise before the agency. Deliberations required or permitted by 
    Secs. 9.105, 9.106, or 9.108(c), do not constitute ``meetings'' within 
    this definition.
    * * * * *
        3. In Sec. 9.108, paragraph (c) is republished for the convenience 
    of the reader as follows:
    
    
    Sec. 9.108  Certification, transcripts, recordings and minutes
    
    * * * * *
        (c) In the case of any meeting closed pursuant to Sec. 9.104, the 
    Secretary of the Commission, upon the advice of the General Counsel and 
    after consultation with the Commission, shall determine which, if any, 
    portions of the electronic recording, transcript or minutes and which, 
    if any, items of information withheld pursuant to Sec. 9.105(c) contain 
    information which should be withheld pursuant to Sec. 9.104, in the 
    event that a request for the recording, transcript, or minutes is 
    received within the period during which the recording, transcript, or 
    minutes must be retained, under paragraph (b) of this section.
    * * * * *
        Dated at Rockville, Maryland, this 4th day of May, 1999.
    
        For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
    Annette Vietti-Cook,
    Secretary of the Commission.
    [FR Doc. 99-11669 Filed 5-7-99; 8:45 am]
    BILLING CODE 7590-01-P