Followup on Department of Labor's Actions on GAO's July 1977 Report on Administration of the Black Lung Benefits Program

HRD-80-111: Published: Sep 15, 1980. Publicly Released: Sep 25, 1980.

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GAO made recommendations to the Department of Labor in 1977 pertaining to its administration of the black lung benefits program. A review has been made on the Labor actions to reduce the backlog of black lung claims, and on the GAO 1977 recommendations. The 1977 report noted that Labor was processing claims slowly and that the claims backlog was increasing. At that time, it was recommended that Labor: (1) allocate adequate resources and staff to effectively and efficiently carry out its responsibilities; (2) review and revise its claims processing procedures to reduce the delays between processing steps; (3) establish criteria on the timeliness of completing the informal hearing process; (4) determine the feasibility of having all X-rays re-read so that claimants whose X-rays are initially interpreted as negative for black lung are given every opportunity to qualify for benefits; and (5) establish an effective program to respond promptly to claimant inquiries on the status of their claims and to provide for more direct communications between the Labor national office and the field offices after the claim is filed.

The review shows that Labor has acted on the GAO recommendations. To help improve the administration of the black lung benefits program, Labor established a decentralized organization to provide onsite service to new claimants and to expedite claims processing. Labor could eliminate its large backlog by late calender year 1981. In response to GAO recommendations, Labor has: (1) allocated enough resources and staff to significantly reduce the large claims backlog; (2) taken several actions to expedite claims and reduce the claims backlog awaiting initial decisions; (3) established additional timeframes for completing the informal hearing process, and established the Branch of Pre-Hearing and Review to improve the transition of contested claims from the informal to formal hearing process; (4) required X-ray re-readings to determine whether the X-ray was of sufficient quality for determining black lung; and (5) established a decentralized organization with field stations assisting claimants and answering questions about claims. Labor has also developed a computerized black lung information system and placed terminals in each district office, and has acted to provide more direct and effective communication between its national office and districts.

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