Inquiry: Denial of nuke workers not by design

Rocky Mountain News

Federal officials did not systematically deny help for ill nuclear weapons workers such as those at Rocky Flats, a congressional investigation has found.

But advocates for the ill workers said that investigators were too quick to accept questionable explanations from officials at the U.S. Department of Labor, which oversees the program.

“They asked the fox if he was doing a good job guarding the henhouse,” said Terrie Barrie, of Craig, who helped found the Alliance for Nuclear Workers Advocacy Groups. “They’re just accepting DOL’s word.”

Barrie tries to help ill nuclear weapons workers qualify for federal compensation, which amounts to $150,000 and medical coverage for certain illnesses that are deemed work-related.

After Congress found evidence in internal e-mails and other documents that White House officials wanted to cut costs of the program, it asked the Government Accountability Office, its investigative arm, to probe further.

The GAO looked at documents in which Labor Department officials were questioning the methods of scientists from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The law governing the program says NIOSH is responsible for the science while Labor awards compensation if the science shows a worker’s illness is more likely than not a result of work exposures.

GAO investigators said some of Labor’s comments on technical documents and petitions for streamlined compensation, in which Labor has no role, “might be interpreted as an attempt to reduce the likelihood of certain claimants receiving compensation.”

The Labor Department was “eventually able to demonstrate how its comments . . . were tied to adjudication,” the report says, but does not elaborate how.

The investigators criticized Labor officials for making these comments without explaining their intent. Labor officials said they would be more clear in the future.

While GAO investigators said they found no organized attempt to limit payouts to nuclear weapons workers who developed job-related illnesses, they did criticize program officials for vastly underestimating the program’s coast and complexity.

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