Radiation Exposure Compensation:

Funding to Pay Claims May Be Inadequate to Meet Projected Needs

GAO-03-481: Published: Apr 10, 2003. Publicly Released: Apr 10, 2003.

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On October 15, 1990, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) was enacted providing for payments to individuals who contracted certain cancers and other serious diseases presumably as a result of their exposure to radiation released during aboveground nuclear weapons tests or as a result of their employment associated with the uranium mining industry during the Cold War era. The RECA Amendments of 2000 required that GAO report to the Congress on the Department of Justice's administration of RECA not later than 18 months after the enactment of the amendments and every 18 months thereafter. GAO originally reported on the status of the program in September 2001. The objectives of this report are to update information on claims processing, payments from the Trust Fund, and administrative expenses.

Since the enactment of the RECA Amendments of 2000, which expanded eligibility for benefits, the RECA program has experienced a significant increase in the number of claims filed. Claims also are taking longer to process, and the number of pending claims has grown sharply. Since we last reported in September 2001, claims have increased from 7,819 to 14,987. Pending claims have increased 300 percent, from 653 to 2,654. About 3,200 new claims are anticipated in fiscal year 2003. In addition, the average time to process claims increased for each category of claimant. Given these circumstances, current funding for the RECA program to pay claims may be inadequate to meet projected needs. In fiscal year 2002, RECA was appropriated funds to cover a 10-year period--fiscal years 2002 through 2011 up to a specified amount per year--totaling $655 million. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) estimate that funding levels appropriated to the Trust Fund are insufficient to meet the projected claims. As a result, claims may be delayed, particularly through 2007. Since 1993, funding for DOJ administration of the program has been provided in a separate appropriation account for Radiation Exposure Compensation administrative expenses. There has been upward pressure on the program's administrative costs in recent years. For fiscal years 2001 and 2002, the RECA program may have exceeded its budget authority for administrative expenses. According to a program budget official, the RECA program spent about $100,000 in fiscal year 2001 and about $1 million for fiscal year 2002 in administrative expenses over the $1.996 million appropriated to the Radiation Exposure Compensation administrative expenses account in those fiscal years.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On May 14, 2003, representatives from the Department of Justice met with staff from both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, and Senator Domenici's staff, as recommended by GAO, to discuss the projected funding shortfall in the program. The Department is committed to working closely with Congress to resolve the problem as soon as possible.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should consult with the congressional committees of jurisdiction to develop a strategy to address the gap between current funding levels and the amount of funding needed to pay claims projected to be approved over the 2003-2011 period.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice


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