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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OCTOBER 29, 2003
5:08 PM
CONTACT:  Project On Government Oversight
Scott Amey (202) 347-1122
Nuclear Workers Exposed: The Politics of Contracting
 
WASHINGTON - October 29 - Tonight, there will be a vote on the Hill pitting nuclear workers exposed to radiation against Science & Engineering Associates (SEA), a Louisiana contractor – in the Conference Committee of Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. SEA is lobbying to keep its work for the Department of Energy (DOE) and its executives or their wives have given significant campaign contributions to Members of Congress involved in the current debate.

The battle is over Section 316 of the Energy and Water Appropriations Act (H.R. 2754), which proposes to transfer responsibilities for processing claims of injured nuclear workers from DOE to the Department of Labor (DOL). The transfer would effectively take away business from SEA which has failed to process more than 90% of nuclear worker claims.

On October 17, 2003, Senators Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) sent a letter to Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) and Harry Reid (D-NV), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development, supporting the provision. That letter highlighted DOE’s slow process in handling nuclear workers’ compensation claims. The senators stated: “Suffering former nuclear weapons workers need efficient claim processing now.”

That letter was in response to a previous letter sent to Domenici by Senators John Breaux (D-LA) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) opposing the transfer of the benefits program from DOE to DOL. Breaux and Landrieu urged Domenici to consider the “full impact” of the passage of the legislation because the transfer of the program from DOE would lead to additional delay and “directly impacts a key employer in our state.”

The “key employer” of which Breaux and Landrieu mentioned is SEA, a Louisiana engineering and information technology company. Currently, SEA has hired C2 Group to conduct a lobbying campaign, including a fact sheet with language that mirrors the letter sent by Breaux and Landrieu to Domenici. In fact, at least four passages from the Breaux and Landrieu letter appear in the C2 Group fact sheet that was circulated on the Hill.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, SEA executives and their wives have significantly racheted-up their political contributions between 1998 and 2002, from $4,000 to more than $50,000. Since the 2000 election cycle, SEA executives or their wives have contributed $10,000 to Domenici and $10,250 to Landrieu, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the junior Senator from Louisiana, and a SEA supporter. A Memorandum of Agreement giving SEA this work was signed November 2001, and permitted the DOE to acquire the services, via the U.S. Navy, of SEA through a noncompetitive contract.

It’s no surprise that political decisions are driven by lobbyists and political contributions, but the present fight provides an example of the political system being driven by money and contracts, rather than the public good.

BACKGROUND

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 (EEOICPA), provides compensation for employees of DOE who became ill as a result of the work performed in the production and testing of nuclear weapons. The EEOICPA is administered by the Department of Labor (DOL), which is responsible for claims arising from EEOICPA Subtitle B. That subtitle provides covered employees who were exposed to radiation or certain toxic substances and who subsequently developed cancer, lung disease, or other specified illnesses to be eligible for a one-time lump sum payment of $150,000 for disability and payment of future medical expenses. If the worker is deceased, the lump sum payment will be provided to the worker’s survivors. Additionally, DOE, which is responsible for state workers’ compensation claims arising from EEOICPA Subtitle D, provides assistance to contractor employees in filing a claim under the appropriate state workers’ compensation system once agreements to do so have been entered into between DOE and states. Although DOE administers the program, SEA is charged with managing DOE’s benefits system.

Mandated by Congress to assess the effectiveness of the EEOICPA program, the General Accounting Office (GAO) examined the number and status of claims and the extent to which DOE policies and procedures help in filing workers’ compensation benefits claims. Despite DOE assurances that, by August 2003 it planned to achieve 100 cases per week through the first stage of its claims process, GAO found that DOE is failing in its administration of the program.

DOE’s own data show that out of the 20,276 cases filed, as of October 10, 2003:

• 15,089 cases are “awaiting development;”

• 319 cases are “under initial review;”

• 3,017 cases are “under research;”

• 14 cases are “under construction;”

• 456 cases are developed (notifications pending);

• 264 cases are awaiting panel assignment (96) or at the physician’s panel (168);

• 81 cases have final determinations;

• 931 cases are ineligible;

• 105 cases were withdrawn by the claimant.

Those statistics confirm the GAO findings that, as of June 30, 2003, only 6% of the cases had been completely processed (with only 42 out of nearly 19,000 cases having a physicians panel determination) and “[m]ore than 50 percent [10,109 out of nearly 19,000 cases] have not begun processing.” GAO further said that “[n]early two-thirds of pending cases were filed within the first year of the program” and that “more than 90 percent” of cases filed after September 2002, “remain unprocessed.”

By contrast, the Department of Labor whose claims process has completed the “initial processing” of 87% and 95% of the 47,411 claims and 35,832 cases filed, respectively, over approximately the same time period.

POGO investigates, exposes, and seeks to remedy systemic abuses of power, mismanagement, and subservience by the federal government to powerful special interests. Founded in 1981, POGO is a politically-independent, nonprofit watchdog that strives to promote a government that is accountable to the citizenry.

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