House Committee Investigating Complaints Gov't Slowed Nuclear Compensation Efforts

Rep. Virginia Foxx's spokeswoman: We will 'get to the bottom' of 'alarming' Labor Department whistleblower complaints

Getty Images
August 1, 2017

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.), who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, is investigating Labor Department whistleblower complaints that government officials purposefully thwarted ill nuclear workers' or their widows' claims for compensation required by law.

A committee spokeswoman said the panel is working with Department of Labor (DOL) staff, as well as the agency's inspector general, to "get to the bottom" of complaints that administrators wrote regulations and manipulated them to deny or delay claims to nuclear workers who should have received them under the law.

The Washington Free Beacon first reported the whistleblower's concerns that Labor Department leaders during former Labor Secretary Tom Perez's tenure ignored his written and verbal complaints about the program’s administration.

"These are alarming reports that we intend to get to the bottom of," the committee spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "We will work with the new administration and DOL's Office of Inspector General to understand what went wrong and ensure the program is providing the support these nuclear workers and their families deserve."

The statement comes after an advocacy group for workers in the nuclear weapons industry last week called on Congress to hold hearings to investigate the whistleblower's charges.

The group, the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups (ANWAG), said the most recent complaints confirm several concerns it had raised for more than a decade with the program, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.

ANWAG's Terrie Barrie said she is encouraged by Foxx's pledge to "get to the bottom" of the whistleblower complaints.

"I am so grateful that they are committed to investigating the issues that [the whistleblower] and the advocates have raised," she said. "I am confident that the committee will find evidence that confirms our allegations."

The group had sent a letter to the IG in July asking it to investigate whether the EEOICP administrators were illegally instituting new rules to unjustifiably deny payments to claimants, particularly when it comes to wage-loss compensation.

The IG's Complaint Analysis Office told the group last week it had referred the complaint to the IG's Office of Investigations' Labor Racketeering and Fraud department for "further review and evaluation."

"Following this review, a determination will be made to the most appropriate course of action," the IG wrote in an emailed response.

The Education and Workforce committee already has engaged with appropriate DOL staff, the IG on the issue. Additionally, the panel has asked the General Accounting Office, Congress's watchdog, to review aspects of the compensation program, and consider "the most appropriate next steps to improve the program," according to a knowledgeable GOP aide.

More than a month before the whistleblower publicly aired his complaints in mid-July, Foxx and Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.) asked the GAO to review a part of the program that compensates nuclear workers or their survivors for medical expenses, impairment and lost wages resulting to exposure to toxic substances at covered bomb-making facilities.

In a letter to the GAO comptroller general in early June, Foxx and Wilson specifically asked for a review of the number of claims that officials have reopened after the Labor Department formally acknowledged new medically established links between exposure to nuclear toxins and occupational illnesses and diseases.

"Since 2005, DOL has issued five notices in which it announced plans to reopen such claims but little is known about their outcomes," Foxx and Wilson wrote.

DOL may reopen previously denied claims based on the new medical information, but only if officials believe a "relatively large number of claims are potentially affected," the lawmakers said in their letter.

The lawmakers want to know how many claims officials have reopened because of the new notices and "the extent to which re-adjudicating these claims has resulted in any changes to the final decision to accept or deny the claim."

The GAO's managing director of congressional relations acknowledged the lawmakers' letter in late June and said she anticipates that GAO staff with "the required skills" would be able to start tackling the review in four months.