Review of the Department of Energy's Controversial Termination of a Research Contract

EMD-79-21: Published: Jan 2, 1979. Publicly Released: Feb 1, 1979.

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In 1964 the Atomic Energy Commission, a predecessor agency to the Department of Energy (DOE), contracted with the University of Pittsburgh, with Dr. Thomas Mancuso as principal investigator, to study the health effects of low-level radiation exposure on workers at several Government-owned nuclear facilities. In 1977 Dr. Mancuso's contract was terminated, but the study he had started was continued by other DOE contractors. DOE and Dr. Mancuso disagreed as to the reasons for termination of the contract. DOE claimed that Dr. Mancuso's work was unsatisfactory because the study was not producing results or conclusions for publication. Conversely, Dr. Mancuso claimed that his contract was terminated because of his refusal to make public his preliminary findings which DOE wanted to use to refute the 1974 findings of a Washington State researcher that showed excess cancers among workers in a nuclear facility. GAO reviewed the termination of Dr. Mancuso's contract, the transfer of the study to other DOE contractors, and the report on the matter by the Office of the Inspector General of DOE.

GAO found that DOE had been dissatisfied with Dr. Mancuso's study for a long time and had been seriously considering replacing him years before the Washington State researcher's findings were known. GAO criticizes the fact that DOE did not act sooner to replace Dr. Mancuso. The three contractors chosen to replace Dr. Mancuso were not necessarily bad choices, but an image problem often results when the agency that is developing and improving nuclear power through contractors uses these same contractors to study the safety of nuclear power. A study made in May 1978 by the Department's Office of the Inspector General to explain DOE's termination of Dr. Mancuso's contract and the transfer of the study he started appeared to be a fair and comprehensive review of the matter.

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