Thursday, July 20, 2006
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, my name is Lewis Wade and I am the Senior Science Advisor at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I bring you warm regards from Dr. John Howard, the Director of NIOSH, who had the opportunity to appear before this Subcommittee in March. My duties at NIOSH include serving as the Designated Federal Official for the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health ("the Board"). In that capacity, I represent the Secretary of HHS on the Board and have the responsibility of overseeing the Board's work to ensure that it meets the needs of the Secretary. I also serve as the Technical Project Officer on the contract with Sanford Cohen and Associates (SC&A), which provides scientific and technical support to the Board on a range of topics, including review of individual dose reconstructions and site profiles and providing recommendations on adding classes of employees to the Special Exposure Cohort (SEC).
I am pleased to appear before you today to provide an update on the status of HHS activities under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 ("EEOICPA" or "the Act"). I consider the work that NIOSH does in support of the Act to be tremendously important. The role of HHS in this program is to focus on the science of doing dose reconstructions and the related issue of considering and deciding petitions from classes of employees wishing to be added to the SEC. HHS also developed the probability of causation guidelines that are used by the Department of Labor (DOL) in adjudicating claims for compensation. Other areas of this program (e.g., processing and payment of claims) are under the purview of DOL, which has lead responsibility for administering EEOICPA. Let me briefly update you on the progress NIOSH has made to date.
In October 2001, NIOSH received from DOL the first cases for dose reconstruction. To date, NIOSH has returned 14,511 cases to DOL with completed dose reconstructions or for handling under the SEC presumptive rules. That represents 66 percent of the 21,988 dose reconstruction cases that have been referred to NIOSH by DOL. NIOSH leadership has focused significant attention on processing dose reconstructions in a timely manner, and by aggressively and proactively managing the process we have improved from processing an average of 100 dose reconstructions per week in 2004 to an average of 160 per week thus far in 2006. Six classes of workers have been added to the SEC to date. Two additional classes recently have been approved by the Secretary for addition to the SEC-they were sent to Congress on June 26, 2006 and will be effective on July 26 unless Congress determines otherwise. At the June meeting of the Advisory Board, DOL reported that the SEC classes approved by that date had led to compensation for 468 cases. Overall, DOL reported that more than $472 million has been paid to claimants with completed dose reconstructions or who are members of an SEC class.
The accomplishments are significant especially in light of the fact that of the 325 facilities covered by EEOICPA, many are unique and require a significant amount of time and effort to obtain the information and records-sometimes over 60 years old-necessary to conduct dose reconstructions. We have received claims for 190 of these covered facilities, and of these, NIOSH has completed 80 percent or more of the dose reconstructions for 38 facilities. This includes 14 facilities for which NIOSH has completed 100 percent of the dose reconstructions for the cases received from DOL.
NIOSH is proud of the work it has done to implement EEOICPA. However, we are aware of and understand the concerns of some claimants that it takes NIOSH too long to act upon their cases and SEC petitions, and we as an agency are committed to continuing to improve our processes to address these concerns.
Let me turn briefly to the work of the Advisory Board. The Board focuses on the scientific detail that is necessary to oversee such a program; and it makes use of rigorous peer review in the accomplishment of its work. Anyone who has attended a Board meeting understands the high level of detail that the Board brings to its work. To give you a sense of the Board's involvement in the program, between now and the end of the fiscal year, there are scheduled two Board meetings and four Working Group meetings on issues including site profile reviews, SEC petition reviews, and review of our conflict of interest policy.
As you know, the Board schedules its meetings in close geographic proximity to the workers likely to be impacted by the current work of the Board. Through public comment sessions at these meetings, the Board hears first-hand from claimants about their concerns and frustrations with the program. The Board often finds itself under intense pressure from claimants and their advocates. However, NIOSH has observed that the Board's decisions have been driven by the information before it. In the area of SEC petitions, for example, while the Board has taken actions consistent with NIOSH recommendations to add or deny adding a class, the Board also has taken a position contrary to a NIOSH recommendation to deny adding a class. With one exception, the decisions of the Secretary of HHS have been consistent with all of the Board's recommendations on SEC petitions (the exception being when the Board's recommendation on a facility was followed by a decision by the Department of Energy to remove the facility from the list of covered facilities, thus precluding a Secretarial decision on the petition).
In summary, NIOSH has made significant progress in the six years since the inception of this program in performing the important duties with which it has been charged. However, we recognize that there are still many former energy workers, or in many cases their spouses or children, who are awaiting final decisions on their claims, and we are committed to continuing to work to improve the program to serve them better and honor their service to our country.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Last Revised: August 1, 2006