Adjudication of Black Lung Claims by Labor's Office of Administrative Law Judges and Benefits Review Board

HRD-85-19: Published: Oct 26, 1984. Publicly Released: Nov 9, 1984.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) the growth in the backlogs of black lung program cases; (2) the Department of Labor's proposals to reduce these backlogs; (3) the length of time it takes to dispose of appealed cases, (4) the costs of adjudicating these cases; and (5) estimates on the length of time to reduce these new backlogs.

As of September 30, 1984, the Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ) and the Benefits Review Board had sizable inventories of pending black lung cases. These inventories had increased following the enactment of black lung amendments which required the rereview of all previously denied and pending black lung claims. Many denied claims were appealed to the OALJ and the Board. Based on the current backlog, a new appeal could take, on the average, over 3.5 years to decide. GAO found that the Chief Administrative Law Judge has implemented a plan to contract with retired administrative law judges to assist in preparing decisions. In addition, legislation has increased the size of the Board and authorized the Secretary of Labor to designate up to four administrative law judges as temporary Board members to relieve its backlog. The Board currently takes, on the average, about 27 months to dispose of an appealed black lung case. OALJ and Board costs for adjudicating black lung cases in fiscal year 1984 are expected to total about $7.2 million and $2.9 million respectively. These costs, and the costs of paying black lung benefits to eligible claimants, are charged to the black lung disability trust fund. This fund was established to transfer the costs of the program from the federal government to the coal industry. Since its establishment, the trust fund has operated at a deficit and, as of September 30, 1983, owed the government over $2.1 billion. The increased costs of adjudicating cases by a larger OALJ and Board staff would also be charged to the trust fund.

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