WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration expanded an inquiry yesterday into the propriety and safety of human radiation experimentation conducted by the government in the decades after World War II.
Following the lead of the Department of Energy, which began three weeks ago to comb its archives for records on the experiments, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said yesterday they would also begin investigations.
Spokesmen for the agencies said they were preparing to search their files with the intention of make much of what they find public.
Energy Secretary Hazel R. O'Leary has said that she was heartsick when she learned that some of the subjects of medical experiments sponsored by her department decades ago were not aware they were being used in experiments. This concern, she said, prompted her to order a sweeping review of the history of human experiments by the department, which was then called the Atomic Energy Commission.
The secretary has also named Dr. Ruth R. Faden, a medical ethicist from Johns Hopkins University, to head a task force that will review cases of radiation testing on unsuspecting humans and consider compensation for the victims and their families.
Spokesmen for the other agencies said yesterday they had no idea whether ethical lines had been crossed by their researchers. They said that their first mission was to identify what kinds of human experiments had taken place, and that such an effort was now under way.
A fifth agency of the government, the Public Health Service, was also involved in some of the radiation experiments, said officials at the Department of Energy. But a spokesman for the Public Health Service said yesterday that he was not aware of such research on human subjects.
The White House has called a meeting Monday to help the federal agencies coordinate their work.
The White House's decision to participate and help coordinate the investigation comes a week after Mrs. O'Leary established a toll free telephone line (1-800-493-2998) to answer questions and to collect new information about human radiation experiments in the Cold War.