Department of Energy:

Unethical Conduct at DOE's Yucca Mountain Project

OSI-96-2: Published: Sep 30, 1996. Publicly Released: Oct 30, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO investigated allegations of conflicts of interest at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Yucca Mountain Project, focusing on whether: (1) the DOE Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM) properly implemented and adequately enforced federal standards of ethical conduct and DOE ethics regulations; and (2) failure to implement DOE ethics standards may have contributed to contract award and management abuses.

GAO found that: (1) the Principles of Ethical Conduct for federal employees contained in Executive Order 12674 and DOE's regulations for ethical conduct by its employees prohibit, among other things, any action that might result in or create the appearance of the loss of impartiality or independence; (2) however, GAO's investigation and DOE's own reviews revealed the appearance of the loss of impartiality by DOE officials at the Yucca Mountain Project; (3) for example, both the Manager of DOE's Yucca Mountain Project from 1987 to October 1993 and the Deputy Manager from October 1990 to January 1994 had long-term personal relationships with personnel of major project contractors, including the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC); (4) moreover, by 1994, DOE had learned that 14 additional, or almost 18 percent of, DOE employees at the project were engaged in relationships that might have created problems concerning the lack of impartiality and independence; (5) DOE determined that four of these relationships represented potential ethical problems, requiring recusal or waiver; (6) although senior OCRWM officials in Washington, D.C., knew by 1991 that potential ethical problems existed at the Yucca Mountain Project, they did not act to resolve the situation until late 1993; (7) further, GAO's investigation disclosed that this Yucca Mountain Project Manager had engaged in other questionable actions; (8) evidence shows that he encouraged SAIC to hire a certain subcontractor largely because of the subcontractor's stated political connections that could be used to promote the Project Manager's, as well as SAIC's, priorities for the project rather than DOE's priorities; (9) SAIC awarded a small subcontract to the firm after soliciting bids from it and a second firm in which SAIC held a major interest; (10) within a few months, and after soliciting bids from the same two firms, SAIC received DOE's consent to award a second contract, much larger in cost and different in scope, to the same subcontractor; (11) the Project Manager also violated DOE policy by improperly participating in a meeting with congressional and contractor officials, where he lobbied for his own positions concerning the project without, as required, first notifying his superiors.

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