Officials who ran program for sick nuclear workers resign
BY Nancy Zuckerbrod, The Associated Press: April 3, 2004

  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 releases.
  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 respective families."
  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.
  Congress 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."
      Grassley and 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.
   Energy Department officials say they can shorten the backlog if Congress agrees to changes.
  A House 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.
  The 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 Tennessee.
  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.