DOL Will Hold on to Nuke Workers Program

Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao called an end to Bush administration plans to move the nuclear workers compensation program\r\nfrom the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice.

Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao called an end Wednesday to administration plans to move the nuclear workers compensation program from the Department of Labor (DOL) to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Last month, Chao asked the White House to put the program under the control of DOJ.

She said it would be duplicative to create a new infrastructure to support the program when DOJ already had a system in place to compensate uranium miners.

Chao said Wednesday that "while DOL may not be the ideal place to house the program, we can''t let the best be the enemy of the good."

"My sole concern has been for the workers who have been wronged by their government in the service of their country," Chao continued. "What they need now is certainty and results."

Although Chao noted that the July 31 deadline for program implementation is not likely, she said an agreement on a more reasonable date should be reached. Meanwhile, the benefits would be fully retroactive.

"The Labor Department staff hasn''t stopped working on implementing this program, even during discussions on moving it elsewhere," said Chao. "We haven''t lost any time, but we also haven''t changed the reality that this department was never ready to fully implement this program by July 31."

Chao''s request to move the program received backlash from angry lawmakers in Congress who were worried that their constituents would have to wait for compensation if the program was moved.

Several bipartisan members of Congress including, Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, sent a letter to President Bush asking that DOL keep the program following Chao''s request that DOJ take over the management responsibility.

"I am glad that the administration has agreed with the position that Congress has taken since the beginning -- that this program can be best administered by the Labor Department," said Strickland. "Now, we must work together to find consensus on a process that is worker friendly."

The compensation program was signed into law last year after the Department of Energy accepted responsibility for exposing thousands of workers to radioactive materials during the Cold War.

The program will provide medical benefits to affected workers, as well as a $150,000 lump sum compensation payment.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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