Black Lung Program:

Further Improvements Can Be Made in Claims Adjudication

HRD-90-75: Published: Mar 21, 1990. Publicly Released: Mar 27, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Labor's (DOL) Black Lung Disability Benefits Program.

GAO found that: (1) only a small percentage of miners obtained black lung benefits between 1973 and 1988; (2) about 90 percent of all the approvals DOL made through calendar year 1988 were for pending and previously denied claims filed from March 1, 1978 through March 31, 1980; (3) claimants appealing DOL decisions experienced lengthy delays while their cases awaited processing; and (4) such factors as reduced dust levels in coal mines and improved health conditions of miners contributed to low approval rates. GAO also found that: (1) the standards DOL used to interpret medical tests performed on miners were reasonable; (2) between fiscal years 1986 and 1990, DOL reduced the backlog of cases appealed and hired new staff to increase productivity; (3) DOL collections of black lung overpayments exceeded costs; and (4) since 1978, coal tax revenues have only paid about 60 percent of black lung benefit expenditures.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress is not expected to take action on this recommendation. Labor does not view the backlog as a resource problem. More people are not needed.

    Matter: If the Secretary of Labor adds resources to the Benefits Review Board (BRB) or takes other actions to eliminate the backlog of cases in a short period of time, additional judges will be needed at BRB. Congress should amend the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act to allow for a temporary increase in the number of panel judges at BRB.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Attention has been focused on the BRB backlog, and Labor has increased production requirements for staff attorneys and taken other measures. Labor does not view the backlog as a resource problem. There is a normal backlog which is not expected to be eliminated. Labor believes the normal backlog level has been achieved.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should focus management attention on the backlog of cases at BRB. Efforts should be taken to eliminate this backlog in a reasonable period of time. These efforts should include a management review of BRB operations to determine the: (1) extent to which greater efficiencies can be achieved with existing staff; and (2) level of additional resources BRB may need to eliminate the backlog.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Revised overpayment notification letters were implemented in March 1990 after Labor received the GAO draft report.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should revise DOL overpayment notices. These notices should include explanation of the "against equity and good conscience" option and how it can be used to obtain a waiver.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor


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