Activities of the Department of Health and Human Services under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims Committee on the Judiciary, United States House of Representatives
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
John Howard, M.D.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, my name is John Howard and I am director of 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 am pleased to appear before you today to provide testimony on the status of HHS activities under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 (“the Act”).
The role of HHS in this program is to focus on the science of doing dose reconstructions, the related issue of considering and deciding petitions from classes of employees wishing to be added to the Special Exposure Cohort (SEC), and provide support for the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health (“the Board”). Other areas of this program, such as processing and payment of claims, are under the purview of the Department of Labor (DOL), which has lead responsibility for administering EEOICPA.
NIOSH is proud of the work we have done to implement EEOICPA. I will update you on the progress NIOSH has made to date, then discuss some of the challenges that we are currently addressing.
As of November 30, 2006, DOL has referred 22,761 claims to NIOSH, and NIOSH has returned 72% (16,317) of these to DOL with a completed dose reconstruction. NIOSH has returned to DOL an additional 4.9% (1,121) for a determination of SEC eligibility; and DOL pulled an additional 2.7% (631 claims) for various reasons. Ten classes of workers have been added to the SEC to date. Three additional classes recently have been approved by the Secretary for addition to the SECthey were sent to Congress on November 9, 2006, and will become effective on December 9, 2006, unless Congress determines otherwise. At the September meeting of the Board, DOL reported that more than $572 million had been paid to claimants with completed dose reconstructions or to members of an HHS added, non-statutory SEC class.
In October 2005, as part of our commitment to expedite completion of the first 5000 cases NIOSH awarded a contract to Battelle Science and Technology to assist with the reconstruction of exposure conditions at various Atomic Weapons Employer facilities and the completion of individual dose reconstructions. Of the first 5000 claims that NIOSH received from DOL, we have completed dose reconstructions or sent to DOL for adjudication 4899 or 98% of the cases. NIOSH has committed to completion of these first 5,000 claims as a top priority so claimants can have resolution of their cases.
NIOSH also has taken the step of initiating petitions for adding classes to the SEC when NIOSH lacks data to estimate radiation doses with sufficient accuracy. Of the ten SEC classes that have been added to date and the three that will become effective this week, four were NIOSH-initiated: Linde Ceramics Plant in New York, Nevada Test Site, S-50 Thermal Diffusion Plant in Tennessee, and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Three more, Allied Chemical, Harshaw Chemical, and General Atomics, have been initiated and submitted to the Board for consideration at the Board meeting next week.
For petitioner-initiated SECs, we have two new resources to assist petitioners: the SEC Petition Counselor and the NIOSH Petitioner/Claimant Ombudsman. The SEC Petition Counselor will provide guidance to anyone who wishes to submit an SEC petition. She will assist the petitioner(s) in understanding the complex development, submission, qualification, evaluation, and Board deliberation processes that the petition will undergo. NIOSH′s goal is to help everyone understand the complete petition process, and the SEC Petition Counselor will work with petitioners to help them overcome frustration or confusion that they may feel when submitting an SEC petition. Petitioners may also turn to the NIOSH Petitioner/Claimant Ombudsman. I am pleased that Ms. Denise Brock, who has testified before your subcommittee about her diligent and successful effort with the SEC petition of Mallinckrodt Chemical Works in Missouri, will be the NIOSH Petitioner/Claimant Ombudsman. She will be an independent, objective resource person to help with NIOSH interactions with claimants and petitioners. Ms. Brock will be a contractor employee with three specific goals: first, to hold individual meetings with claimants and petitioners to assist them in the claims and SEC processes; second, to facilitate workshops presented to groups of claimants and petitioners; and third, to review and suggest improvements in the communications vehicles NIOSH uses in interacting with claimants and petitioners. Ms. Brock will report her findings directly to the NIOSH Director′s Office. Ms. Brock will be a tremendous asset to both the claims and SEC petition processes.
I am pleased also about the completion of another effort that has been months in the making. On October 17, 2006, NIOSH finalized and posted on our website the conflict of interest policy for the EEOICPA program activities. The policy had been presented to the Board in draft form and was revised in response to comments from the Board and the public. All covered entities, including NIOSH and its contactors and subcontractors, will post on their respective websites by December 17, 2006, their procedures for demonstrating compliance with the policy. I have appointed a NIOSH Conflict of Interest Officer, who has held a planning meeting to start implementation by NIOSH of the policy. Since NIOSH is committed to transparency in all aspects of EEOICPA program activities, all conflict of interest disclosure forms will be posted on our website or can be accessed through a weblink on our website.
As I have mentioned, the Board provides guidance and oversight for HHS EEOICPA activities, focusing on scientific detail and peer review of the soundness of NIOSH′s scientific work, and provides recommendations to the Secretary on the addition of classes to the SEC. HHS provides administrative services, funds, facilities, staff, and other necessary support services.
I reported to you in my March testimony that the Board had met a total of 46 times in working groups, subcommittee, and as the full Board. Between March and now, the Board has been especially busy, holding 20 working group meetings, 6 Board meetings, and 3 subcommittee meetings. The next Board meeting will be next week, December 11-13, 2006, in Naperville, Illinois. The Naperville site was chosen for the Board meeting so that interested claimants and petitioners from Blockson Chemical Company, one of five SEC petitions to be considered by the Board at the meeting, may more easily attend the meeting and address the Board during the public comment period.
The Board provides guidance to HHS on all aspects of EEOICPA program activities and we greatly appreciate its meticulous efforts. Since NIOSH is dedicated to transparency in all aspects of the program, all Board meetings, including working group meetings, are publicly announced and open to the public. We exceed the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (P.L. 92-463) by providing verbatim transcriptions and detailed minutes of all Board meetings, including those of working groups, and making them available to the public through our website.
To assist the Board in its work, CDC uses a technical support contractor, Sanford Cohen & Associates (SC&A). SC&A assists to the Board in reviewing NIOSH′s dose reconstruction estimates, site profile documents, and SEC petition evaluations.
In conclusion, NIOSH has made much progress in carrying out the responsibilities of HHS under EEOICPA: we have completed more than 16,000 dose reconstructions, representing 72% of the over 22,000 claims received. Together with those covered by a SEC class, this has resulted in almost $600 million in compensation. But we still have a long way to go. We will continue to value transparency in all activities and strive to ensure that all of our work is of the utmost reliability and integrity. We look forward to continuing to make progress in our work to assist the heroes who have cancer as a result of exposure to unique hazards in building the Nation′s nuclear defense.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.