WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a
last-ditch effort, a Kentucky congressman Friday asked
President Bush to reconsider giving the Justice Department
control of a compensation program for job-sickened nuclear
Cancer victims and people fighting incurable lung diseases
caused by Cold War-era work for the government should not have
to wait while the Justice Department sets up appeals panels,
hires administrative law judges and hires other personnel that
already are in place at the Labor Department, Rep. Ed
Whitfield told Bush.
The shift ``would be a grave disservice'' to
the sick workers, he wrote.
Whitfield, a Republican, represents a district that
includes the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
His letter was sent a day after the Office of Management
and Budget circulated a draft executive order handing the
program over to the Justice Department.
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao had asked for such an order,
saying her department did not have the right kind of expertise
to be in charge of distributing medical coverage and $150,000
payments to some of the workers exposed to dangerous levels of
radiation, beryllium or silica.
The Paducah plant is a large government-owned facility, but
the compensation program also was intended to help
contaminated workers at smaller sites around the country.
Work for the nuclear weapons program was done at mills,
foundries and factories. The Energy Department preliminarily
identified 317 sites in 37 states where sick workers might
qualify for benefits.
In his letter, Whitfield pointed out that the DOE has
fielded 16,000 calls from people seeking information about the
The Labor Department handles worker compensation programs
that process hundreds of thousands of claims annually, while
the Justice Department runs a single program that handles a
few hundred each year.
The new program is supposed to be ready to accept
applications July 31. ``DOJ would never be in a position to
meet that deadline,'' Whitfield said.
The White House said it would have no comment on the draft
Whitfield's letter was the latest in a stream of strongly
worded appeals from Capitol Hill.
Many demanded that the Labor Department be forced to run
the new entitlement program, but some very influential
lawmakers pushed in the opposite direction.
The chairmen of both the House and Senate judiciary
committees wrote strong letters backing up Chao's contention
that her agency was not the one best equipped to run the new
The Justice Department ``has been diligent and efficient in
its responsibilities'' and ``individuals with claims under the
Energy Employees Occupational Compensation Program should be
afforded the expertise and efficiency that the Department of
Justice can provide by administering their program as well,''
wrote House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner,
On the Net:
Justice Department program's claims summary: http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/torts/const/reca/awards.htm