Officials who ran program for sick nuclear
BY Nancy Zuckerbrod, The Associated Press: April
WASHINGTON - Two Bush administration
officials in charge of a widely criticized program that is supposed to help sick
workers at Hanford and other nuclear weapons plants are leaving their jobs, the
Energy Department said yesterday.
The agency announced the
resignations of Undersecretary Robert Card, the departments third-ranking
official, and Assistant Secretary Beverly Cook, who reports to Card, in news
The two officials took the brunt of criticism from lawmakers
this week after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer revealed that a $74 million program to aid workers
sickened from on-the-job exposure to toxic chemicals had paid out a single
claim, $15,000, to one worker.
Energy Department spokesman Joe
Davis said Card and Cook resigned because "they want to spend time with their
David Garman, the department's assistant
secretary for renewable energy, was named acting undersecretary replacing Card,
who is no relation to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.
established the sick worker program in 2000. Its job is to collect workers'
records, help them navigate state compensation systems and ultimately cover the
costs of claims against government contractors.
Sen. Charles Grassley,
R-lowa, accused the department of overpaying its contractor, New Orleans-based
Science and Engineering Associates, to run the program. Card denied Grassley's
accusation at a hearing last Tuesday.
Responding to the resignations
yesterday, Grassley said, "It's important that the department find people who
can now move this program forward."
several other lawmakers had recommended moving the program to the Labor
Department, which runs a separate effort for compensating weapons plant workers
sick from radiation exposure.
The lawmakers have cited the massive
backlog that the Energy Department faces as it tries to process about 22,000
claims filed since the law took effect. As of Tuesday, only 372 claimants had
heard whether their illnesses were job-related.
Department officials say they can shorten the backlog if Congress agrees to
committee this week endorsed a request from the agency to spend $30 million atop
the about $26 million being spent on the program this year.
Energy Department also wants Congress to lift a cap on fees paid to doctors who
help assess worker claims.
Most of the claims are from people who
worked for contractors at Energy Department facilities in Washington and
Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina and
Card and Cook also
oversaw the development of a proposed rule that the department withdrew under
pressure in February. It would have let contractors at nuclear
facilities pick which
safety rules they should follow.