Former members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are at odds over a proposal to reshape the NRC into an agency headed by a single administrator.

Former commissioner James Asselstine told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday he favors retaining the existing structure of the agency, which is headed by five commissioners."Properly implemented, the commission form results in a more open and deliberative decision-making process in which competing views are aired and considered before reaching a conclusion," said Asselstine.

Peter Bradford said a single administrator is the wrong answer and would not improve nuclear safety. He said multi-member agencies are more open to public scrutiny and more resistant to executive branch control and sudden change.

"In addition, when running smoothly, they offer the potential that several heads will be wiser than one," Bradford said.

However, Marcus Rowden testified in support of the single-administrator concept, calling the current NRC structure "seriously flawed."

"The commission structure impedes effective agency management, impairs policy planning and regulatory decision-making, and - most important of all - it defeats clear authority and accountability for agency performance," said Rowden.

The former commissioners directed their remarks at legislation sponsored by Sens. John Breaux, D-La., and Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.

The bill would reorganize the NRC into the Nuclear Safety Agency headed by a single presidentially appointed administrator who must be confirmed by the Senate.

The measure would also establish an independent inspector general to review allegations of fraud and abuse and a safety board to investigate accidents at nuclear power plants.

In addition, the legislation would give statutory authority to the NRC's Office of Investigations, which examines alleged wrongdoing in the nuclear industry.

Ben Hayes, director of the investigations office, told the committee that placement of the office under the NRC's staff director last February dealt a "devastating blow" to morale. He said all of his investigative staff members at headquarters have said they plan to seek jobs elsewhere.