Department of Energy:

Views on Proposed Legislation on Civil Penalties for Nuclear Safety Violations by Nonprofit Contractors

GAO-01-548T: Published: Mar 22, 2001. Publicly Released: Mar 22, 2001.

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Gary L. Jones
(202) 512-3464


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

This testimony discusses GAO's views on H.R. 723, a bill that would modify the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 by changing how the Department of Energy (DOE) treats nonprofit contractors who violate DOE's nuclear safety requirements. Currently, nonprofit contractors are exempted from paying civil penalties that DOE assesses under the act. H.R. 723 would remove that exemption. GAO supports eliminating the exemption because the primary reason for instituting it no longer exists. The exemption was enacted in 1988 at the same time the civil monetary penalty was established. The purpose of the exemption was to ensure that the nonprofit contractors operating DOE laboratories who were being reimbursed only for their costs, would not have their assets at risk for violating nuclear safety requirements. However, virtually all of DOE's nonprofit contractors have an opportunity to earn a fee in addition to payments for allowable costs. This fee could be used to pay the civil monetary penalties. GAO found that DOE's nuclear safety enforcement program appears to be a useful and important tool for ensuring safe nuclear practices.

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