Thursday, December 07, 2006

Congressional Investigators Say Bush Administration Sought To Cut Payments To Nuclear Weapons Workers Sickened By Radiation, Toxic Material

The Bush administration sought to limit payouts to nuclear weapons workers sickened by radiation and toxic material, according to a memo written by congressional investigators and obtained by USA Today.

The investigation focuses on a federal program created in 2000 to compensate people with cancers and other illnesses tied to their work at government and contractor-owned facilities involved in Cold War nuclear weapons production.

About 98,000 cases have been filed. The Labor Department has approved compensation in about 24,000 of those cases, but program records show that not all approved claims have been paid.

The memo, written by staff for the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims for its outgoing chairman, Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN), concludes that since 2002, "there is a continuous stream of (administration) communications … strategizing on minimizing payouts."

The Bush Administration has spun that the memos reflect internal brainstorming on how to avoid compensating ineligible workers. The Labor Department said the ideas are not being pursued.

"What we've been doing all along is trying to ensure that the program is implemented in a way that is fair and consistent and in accord with the law," said Shelby Hallmark, the Labor Department's director of workers' compensation programs.

But Hostettler said at a hearing last month that records reviewed in the investigation do not support the administration's stance.

"This program was supposed to assure workers … (that) their government was finally going to do right by them," he said. "Those tasked with implementing (it) have failed that purpose miserably and they need to be exposed."

Hostettler is pressing the issue despite losing re-election last month, vowing to release key documents and urging Democrats to continue the probe when they take over in January.

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