Harkin: GAO Report Suggests Common Sense Fixes to the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program
Monday, March 22, 2010Kate Cyrul / Bergen Kenny (202) 224-3254
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) commented today on the findings of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report he requested on the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 (EEOICPA). The EEOICPA provides compensation to workers and their survivors for occupational diseases arising from toxic and radiation exposure in the government’s nuclear weapons program. Several Iowans who worked on the Department of Energy’s Line 1 are currently pursuing claims with the Department of Labor (DOL) through the EEOICPA.
“I requested an audit of this program after constituents reported delayed compensation, difficulty navigating the program and inconsistencies with the adjudication process,” Senator Harkin said. “Some claimants had to wait three years just for the government to rule on their case, and that’s unacceptable. The recommendations the GAO makes in this report will help the DOL be more responsive to affected workers, and I am currently looking at the best way to implement these fixes.”
Three agencies coordinate efforts to implement the EEOICPA: The DOL issues compensation payments and determines whether workers should be compensated for exposure to toxic substances; the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates workers’ exposure to radiation for purposes of compensation decisions and determines when workers should receive presumptive compensation without need for a radiation dose estimate; and the Department of Energy (DOE) provides records and historical information used by both NIOSH and the DOL under their authorities.
In its report, the GAO noted that Congress has established a Presidential Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health which regularly evaluates the quality and scientific soundness of radiation dose assessments, site profiles, and presumptive compensation evaluations that are conducted by NIOSH. However, there is a “gap” because there is no comparable body to oversee the “quality, objectivity and consistency of [DOL] consultant physicians’ work and no independent expert review of the scientific soundness of the detailed information in site exposure” matrices used in screening cases for compensability.
The GAO also found that while Congress established a DOL Ombudsman to assist claimants and to report on problems encountered by claimants through annual reports to Congress, “Labor has not publically responded to these concerns, nor developed formal plans for addressing the issues.” As a result, “claimants have little knowledge that their concerns are heard or that they are being addressed.”
GAO also noted that the Labor Department does not release its site exposure matrices due to concerns about releasing national security sensitive information. By comparison, NIOSH has released extensive documentation on radiological conditions at nuclear facilities. GAO found that transparency would facilitate greater understanding on the part of claimants, and help improve the accuracy of the site exposure matrix used in decision making. GAO recommended that DOL and DOE establish a “formal action plan” to facilitate a clearance process to make information on the site matrices public.
A full copy of the report GAO #10-302 can be found here: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10302.pdf.
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