Congress passed the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) in 2000 to compensate Department of Energy (Energy) workers for illnesses stemming from exposure to hazardous substances while working in the atomic weapons industry. Part B of the act provides a lump-sum payment and medical coverage for certain illnesses, while Part E compensates for impairments and lost wages resulting from exposure to toxins. The Department of Labor (Labor) adjudicates all claims and is assisted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Energy. GAO examined (1) claim-processing time, (2) costs of administering the program, (3) extent to which there are quality controls to ensure that claim determinations are supported with objective and scientific information, and (4) actions taken by agencies to promote program transparency for claimants. GAO obtained data on cost and claims processing from Labor and NIOSH, and interviewed agency officials, experts, and claimant advocates.
Matter for Congressional Consideration
|To enhance oversight of claims adjudication under Part E of EEOICPA, Congress may wish to consider amending the act to establish an independent review board for Part E, similar to the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health established under Part B of the program. Such an independent board could review and report on the scientific soundness of Labor's implementation of Part E, including the site exposure matrix, guidance provided to claims examiners on medical evidence, and Part E probability of causation standards for radiation-related cancers. In creating such an independent board, it would be critical to develop appropriate provisions regarding its funding structure, appointment of members, and staff support. Our 2007 report on the Part B Advisory Board highlighted challenges that these three areas had presented to the board's independence and identified various options to enhance board independence in each area.||In August 2013, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Congress to amend the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (S. 1423: Toxic Substances and Worker Health Advisory Board Act, and H.R. 2905: Nuclear Workers Health Advisory Board Act). The amendment would require the President to establish the Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health, an independent advisory board to oversee Part E of the program.|
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Labor||1. To enhance oversight and transparency of EEOICP, the Secretary of Labor should strengthen the quality control measures in place for Part B lung disease claims and Part E processes with independent reviews. Such measures should include, for example, instituting periodic peer reviews of sampled reports by Part E consulting physicians, arranging for technical review of detailed information in the site exposure matrix, and obtaining periodic expert review of medical evidentiary requirements for the Part B claims related to lung diseases.|
|Department of Labor||2. To enhance oversight and transparency of EEOICP, the Secretary of Labor should establish a formal agreement and action plan with the Secretary of Energy to release more information, where appropriate, in the site exposure matrix database in order to allow greater public access and input. In doing so, Labor should actively seek additional information from worker representatives and site experts about job descriptions, processes, and potential exposure.|
|Department of Labor||3. To enhance oversight and transparency of EEOICP, the Secretary of Labor should develop formal action plans, within Labor's scope of authority, in response to the Labor Ombudsman's reports regarding major claimant concerns and make the plans and updates on their subsequent status publicly available. One such plan should offer Labor's response to the Ombudsman's reports about consistent problems with customer service.|