Radiation Exposure Compensation Act: Program Status (28-SEP-05,  
GAO-05-1002R).							 
                                                                 
From 1945 through 1962, the United States conducted a series of  
above-ground atomic weapons tests as it built up its Cold War	 
nuclear arsenal. Many people who were exposed to radiation	 
resulting from the nuclear weapons development and testing	 
program subsequently developed serious diseases, including	 
various types of cancer. On October 15, 1990, in order to	 
establish a procedure to make partial restitution to these	 
victims for their suffering associated with the radiation	 
exposure, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) was	 
enacted. RECA provided that the Attorney General be responsible  
for processing and adjudicating claims under the act. The	 
Department of Justice (DOJ) established the Radiation Exposure	 
Compensation Program (RECP), which is administered by its Civil  
Division. RECP began processing claims in April 1992. RECA has	 
been amended several times, including on July 10, 2000, when the 
RECA Amendments of 2000 were enacted. The amendments of 2000	 
broadened the scope of eligibility for benefits coverage to	 
include new victim categories and modified the criteria for	 
determining eligibility for compensation. The 2000 amendments	 
also included a mandate that we report to the Congress on DOJ's  
administration of RECA not later than 18 months after the	 
enactment of the amendments and every 18 months thereafter. We	 
have reported twice previously on DOJ's administration of RECA.  
In our last report, we identified the potential for a funding	 
shortage in the compensation trust fund. We recommended that the 
Attorney General consult with the congressional committees of	 
jurisdiction to develop a strategy to address the gap between	 
current funding levels and the amount of funding estimated to be 
needed to pay claims projected to be approved over the 2003 to	 
2011 period. This report follows up on our previous		 
recommendation and updates information on the status of the RECA 
program, including the (1) status of funds available to pay	 
claims and pay program administration costs; (2) status of claims
approved, denied, and pending; (3) processing times; and (4) the 
total of compensation awards.					 
-------------------------Indexing Terms------------------------- 
REPORTNUM:   GAO-05-1002R					        
    ACCNO:   A38558						        
  TITLE:     Radiation Exposure Compensation Act: Program Status      
     DATE:   09/28/2005 
  SUBJECT:   Administrative costs				 
	     Claims processing					 
	     Claims processing costs				 
	     Claims settlement					 
	     Eligibility criteria				 
	     Eligibility determinations 			 
	     Health hazards					 
	     Radiation exposure hazards 			 
	     Program evaluation 				 
	     Financial analysis 				 
	     Funds management					 
	     Radiation Exposure Compensation Program		 

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GAO-05-1002R

Washington, DC 20548

September 28, 2005

Congressional Committees

Subject: Radiation Exposure Compensation Act: Program Status

From 1945 through 1962, the United States conducted a series of
aboveground atomic weapons tests as it built up its Cold War nuclear
arsenal. Many people who were exposed to radiation resulting from the
nuclear weapons development and testing program subsequently developed
serious diseases, including various types of cancer. On October 15, 1990,
in order to establish a procedure to make partial restitution to these
victims for their suffering associated with the radiation exposure, the
Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) was enacted.1 RECA provided
that the Attorney General be responsible for processing and adjudicating
claims under the act. The Department of Justice (DOJ) established the
Radiation Exposure Compensation Program (RECP), which is administered by
its Civil Division. RECP began processing claims in April 1992. RECA has
been amended several times,2 including on July 10, 2000, when the RECA
Amendments of 2000 were enacted.3 The amendments of 2000 broadened the
scope of eligibility for benefits coverage to include new victim
categories and modified the criteria for determining eligibility for
compensation.

The 2000 amendments also included a mandate that we report to the Congress
on DOJ's administration of RECA not later than 18 months after

1Pub. L. No. 101-426, 104 Stat. 920 (1990). RECA recognizes that the
amount of money paid does not completely compensate for the burdens placed
upon such individuals.

2Early amendments included November 1990 amendments (Pub. L. No. 101-510,
104 Stat. 1835, 1837) that among other things expanded eligibility to
include on-site participants and October 1992 amendments (Pub. L. No.
102-486, 106 Stat. 3131) that provided for the judicial review of denied
claims.

3Pub. L. No. 106-245, 114 Stat. 501 (2000).

the enactment of the amendments and every 18 months thereafter.4 We have
reported twice previously on DOJ's administration of RECA.5

In our last report, we identified the potential for a funding shortage in
the compensation trust fund. We recommended that the Attorney General
consult with the congressional committees of jurisdiction to develop a
strategy to address the gap between current funding levels and the amount
of funding estimated to be needed to pay claims projected to be approved
over the 2003 to 2011 period.

This report follows up on our previous recommendation and updates
information on the status of the RECA program, including the (1) status of
funds available to pay claims and pay program administration costs; (2)
status of claims approved, denied, and pending; (3) processing times; and
(4) the total of compensation awards. According to DOJ, the information
provided was obtained from the same data sources that we had previously
determined to be reliable. We did not revalidate the data from these
sources; we believe they are sufficiently reliable for the purposes of
this update.

We conducted our review from June 2005 through August 2005, in accordance
with generally accepted government auditing standards.

RECA established a procedure to make partial restitution to individuals
who contracted serious diseases, such as certain types of cancers,
presumably resulting from exposure to radiation from aboveground nuclear
tests or as a result of their employment in the uranium industry. In
addition to creating eligibility criteria for compensation, RECA created a
Trust Fund to pay claims. The Attorney General is responsible for
reviewing applications to determine whether applicants qualify for
compensation and establishing procedures for paying claims. To discharge

4Section 11007 of the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations
Authorization Act (Pub. L. No. 107-273, 116 Stat. 1758, 1818 (2002) made a
technical amendment to the GAO reporting requirement provisions by
striking such reporting provision in the RECA Amendment of 2000 and
enacting the same reporting requirement provision at a different location
within RECA.

5GAO, Radiation Exposure Compensation: Analysis of Justice's Program
Administration, GAO-01-1043, (Washington, D.C: Sept. 17, 2001), and GAO,
Radiation Exposure Compensation: Funding to Pay Claims May Be Inadequate
to Meet Projected Needs, GAO-03-481, (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 14, 2003).

Background

these responsibilities, the Attorney General has issued implementing
regulations.6

The regulations established RECP within DOJ's Civil Division and charged
it with administering claims adjudication and compensation under the act.
To file for compensation, the claimant or eligible surviving beneficiary,
either acting on his or her own behalf or represented by counsel, submits
the appropriate claim forms along with corroborating documentation to
RECP, whose claims examiners and legal staff review and adjudicate the
claims. If the claim is approved, a letter is sent notifying the person of
the approval and enclosing an "acceptance of payment" form for the
claimant to return to RECP. According to program officials, upon receipt
of a signed acceptance of payment form, DOJ authorizes the Treasury
Department to make payment from the Trust Fund. For more detailed
information on the RECA claims adjudication process, see our April 2003
report.

The RECA Amendments of 2000 broadened the scope of eligibility for
benefits coverage, including increasing the geographical area covered,
allowing more individuals to qualify. Figure 1 shows the current areas
affected under RECA.

Figure 1 shows the current geographic areas that represent the scope of
eligibility for benefits coverage under RECA.

6DOJ implementing regulations for the RECA program are found at Part 79 of
Title 28 Code of Federal Regulations (28 C.F.R. Part 79).

Figure 1: Map of RECA-Covered Areas

                               Downwind counties

Uranium worker states

                 Source: Department of Justice, Civil Division.

In September 2002, in response to congressional direction7 the Health
Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)8 asked the National Research
Council9 to convene a committee to assess recent scientific evidence
associating radiation exposure with cancers or other human health effects
and determine whether other groups of people or additional geographic
areas should be covered under RECA. In 2005, the committee published its
report that included among its recommendations, whether

7(H. R. Conference Report No. 107-593, at 158 (2002))

8HRSA is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
HRSA provides national leadership and program resources and services
needed to improve access to quality health care for uninsured,
underserved, and special needs populations. More detailed information on
HRSA can be obtained through the HRSA web site at www.hrsa.gov.

9The National Research Council is part of the National Academies, which
also comprise the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of
Engineering and Institute of Medicine. They are private, nonprofit
institutions that provide science, technology and health policy advice
under a congressional charter. See www.nationalacademies.org.

persons from other states and territories should be considered for
coverage under RECA.10

In addition, the RECA amendments of 2000 amended a portion of the Public
Health Service Act to authorize competitive grants to state and local
governments, and appropriate health-care organizations, to initiate and
support programs for health screening, education, medical referral, and
appropriate follow-up services for persons eligible under RECA. HRSA
oversees the grants as part of the Radiation Exposure Screening and
Education Program. Table 1 shows the program grants awarded between fiscal
years 2002 and 2005.

10 National Research Council, Committee to Assess the Scientific
Information for the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program,
Board on Radiation Effects Research, Assessment of the Scientific
Information for the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program
(Washington , D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2005). For reference
see: www.nap.edu.

Table 1: Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program grants awarded
                       between fiscal years 2002 and 2005

         Organizations Fiscal Year -$ in Thousands 2002 2003 2004 2005

    Utah Navajo Health System, Inc.-Montezuma Creek, UT   $589 $210 $210 $185 
St. Mary's Hospital and Medical Center-Grand Junction, 581  313  313  
                             CO                                          
        Northern Navajo Medical Center-Shiprock, NM       517  375  375  
          Mountain Park Health Center-Phoenix, AZ         342  306  306  
          University of New Mexico Health Sciences        312  210  210  
                   Center-Albuquerque, NM                                
          Miners' Colfax Medical Center-Raton, NM         271   0    0   
        Intermountain Health Services-St. George, UT         0 313  313  
               University of Nevada - Reno-NV                0  0    0   

RECA Program Funding Status Has Improved

Source: Health Resources and Services Administration.

In April 2003, we reported that projected funding estimates to pay RECA
claims may be inadequate and recommended that DOJ work with Congress to
address the funding requirements. After that report, Congress took
legislative actions to ensure that the RECA program would have sufficient
funding to pay approved claims for the life of the program. According to
the DOJ Civil Division's Fiscal Year 2006 Performance Budget submission,
the actions taken by Congress will ensure that the RECA program is fully
funded for 2005 and in future years. The major changes are as follows:

o  	The Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
Year 2005,11 mandated that uranium millers, miners, and ore transporters
who are the highest cost claimants, (those entitled to $100,000) will
still have their claims adjudicated by RECP, but will now be compensated
through the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program
administered by the Department of Labor.12

This leaves only 2 out of 5 claimant categories (on-site participants

entitled to $75,000 and downwinders entitled to $50,000) compensated

under the RECA program.

11Pub. L. No. 108-375, 118 Stat. 1811, 2187-88 (2004).

12The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program
compensates certain workers of the Department of Energy (and certain
contractors and subcontractors) who work or worked at nuclear facilities
or nuclear weapon testing sites or their survivors, as well as RECA
covered uranium miners, millers, and ore transporters injured by exposure
to ultra-hazardous materials, or their survivors. Pub. L. No. 106-398, 114
Stat. 1654 (2000).

More Flexibility Provided to Meet Program Administration Expenses

o  	The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 appropriated $27.8 million
in addition to the fiscal year 2005 mandatory appropriation to the trust
fund of $65 million for a total of $92.8 million, which the agency said
will provide full funding for 2005.

o  	Additionally, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 makes
funding for downwinders and on-site participants mandatory and indefinite
beginning in fiscal year 2006. As a result, according to agency officials,
the appropriation will no longer end in 2011 as originally enacted and
whatever amounts are required to pay the claims will be appropriated.

In our last report, we stated that the administrative expense
appropriation for RECP of about $2 million was insufficient to keep up
with the number of claims submitted in fiscal years 2001 and 2002.
However, several legislative changes were made starting with
appropriations for fiscal year 2003, to help ensure sufficient
administrative funding would be available to meet future claims processing
demands. First, for fiscal year 2003, appropriations for the programs
administrative expenses were no longer contained, as was the case in
previous years, in a separate account and were instead included within
DOJ's Salaries and Expenses, General Legal Activities account.13 In
addition, while the fiscal year 2002 appropriation included a specific
amount for administrative expenses, the fiscal year 2003 administrative
expenses provision contained a specific minimum amount. In accompanying
conference report language, the conferees provided that they expected the
Civil Division to absorb any additional requirements for processing RECA
claims from other resources available to the Civil Division.14 Whereas the
fiscal year 2004 administrative expense appropriation15 mirrored language
contained in the fiscal year 2003 appropriation, the pertinent fiscal year
2005 appropriations did not contain language specific to RECA
administrative expenses.16 The House Appropriations Committee report for
DOJ's fiscal year 2005 appropriation provided that its recommendation
would eliminate language for administrative expenses with respect to
RECA.17 However, this Committee

13Pub. L. No. 108-7, 117 Stat. 11 (2003). 14H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 108-10, at
607 (2003). 15Pub. L. No. 108-199, 118 Stat. 3 (2004). 16Pub. L. No.
108-447, 118 Stat. 2809 (2004). 17H.R. Rep. No. 108-576, at 15 (2004).

recommended using language in previous appropriations acts allowing the
Attorney General to provide additional resources to the Civil Division, if
emergent circumstances warrant, through transfers of funds from other DOJ
sources, subject to specific reprogramming requirements.

When we last reported, RECP had received a total of 14,987 claims through
fiscal year 2002. As of June 19, 2005, RECP had received 22, 206 claims.
Table 2 shows the number of RECA claims filed each fiscal year.

                                 Number of RECA

                                Claims Received

  Table 2: Number of RECA Claims Filed Each Fiscal Year 1992 through 2005 1992
       1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005a

    1,898 1,340 1,207 827 551 408 358 394 837 3,822 3,345 3,105 2,380 1,734

Number of Claims Approved, Denied, and Pending

Source: RECA claims data from DOJ's Civil Division's case histories
database.

aThrough June 19, 2005.

When RECP reviews a claim, the review process ends in one of two possible
outcomes-approval or denial of the claim. For approved onsite participant
and downwinder claims, the claim is forwarded to the Treasury for payment.
In the case of uranium worker claims, approved claims are forwarded to the
Department of Labor for payment. If denied, applicants may refile their
claims or pursue an administrative appeal which is handled by the agency.
Of the total 22,206 claims filed, RECP reached a disposition on 20,403.
The remaining 1,803, or about 8 percent of claims, were pending, as of
June 19, 2005.

Through June 19, 2005, RECP had approved $926.4 million in awards to
claimants. Payment approvals include $455.8 million based on downwinder
applications; $340.8 million to eligible individuals based on uranium mine
employee applications; $63.6 million based on on-site participant
applications; $55.0 million based on uranium miller applications; and
$11.2 million based on ore transporter applications. Table 3 shows the
number of RECA claims approved, denied, and pending through June 19, 2005,
and the total dollar awards by claimant category.

Table 3: Number of RECA Claims Approved, Denied, and Pending through June
19, 2005

                                                                Dollar Awards 
                Category of                              Total       Approved 
                   Claimant Approved  Denied  Pending  Claims     ($millions) 
                 Downwinder     9,117   2,751      918 12,786          $455.8 
              Uranium miner     3,415   2,240      509   6,164         $340.8 
                    On-site                                    
                participant       889   1,138      245   2,272          $63.6 
             Uranium miller       550     147      111     808          $55.0 
            Ore transporter       112      44       20     176          $11.2 
                      Total    14,083   6,320  1,803   22,206          $926.4 

Source: Department of Justice, Civil Division

We compared the claims processing times reported to us by DOJ in June of
2005, with the processing times at the time of our last report. As shown
in table 4, claims processing times improved for four out of the five
categories of claimants. The only category that does not show an improved
average processing time is on-site participant claims.

Claims Processing

                              Times Have Improved

Table 4: Average Number of Days to Process a Claim for Fiscal Years 1992
through June 2005

 Applicant type Uranium Uranium Ore On-site miner Downwinder miller transporter
                                  participant

Average number of days to process claims

               End of fiscal                                          
                   year 2000    327       244       459        392    
                  As of June                                          
                        2005    313       222       335        351    
                   Increase/                                          
                  (decrease)   (14)      (22)      (124)      (41)         60 

Source: Department of Justice Civil Division.

According to the program director, the increase in processing time for
onsite participant claims is attributed to the extended periods of time
requested by the claimants in order to make the election whether to accept
the RECA award or an award pursuant to the Energy Employees Occupational
Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). According to the RECA statute,
if on-site participant claimants accept an award under

Number of Pending Claims Is Down 32 Percent

Agency Comments

RECA, they will not be eligible to receive any payment or medical benefits
under EEOICPA, even though they may qualify. Therefore, these claimants
are provided with sufficient time in which to make this election.

The proportion of claims received but not yet adjudicated has decreased
significantly since we last reported. In our last report we stated that
2,654 of 14,987, or about 18 percent of claims filed, were still pending
adjudication. According to agency data as of June 2005, the total number
of pending claims is down to 1,803, or about 8 percent of the total 22,206
claims filed.

We provided a draft of this report to the Attorney General for review and
comment. The Justice Department had no formal comments. The Civil Division
reviewed the report for accuracy and provided technical comments which
have been incorporated in this report where appropriate.

Copies of this report are being sent to the Attorney General; the
Director,
Office Management and Budget; and any other interested parties. We will
also make copies available to others upon request. Contact points for our
Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the
last page of this report. In addition, the report will be available at no
charge on GAO's Web site at http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staffs have any questions about this report, please contact
me at (202) 512-8777 or at [email protected] William W. Crocker and Leo
M. Barbour made key contributions to this report.

Paul L. Jones, Director
Homeland Security and Justice Issues

List of Committees

The Honorable Arlen Specter
Chairman
The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy
Ranking Minority Member
Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate

The Honorable Jim Sensenbrenner, Jr.
Chairman
The Honorable John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Minority Member
Committee on the Judiciary
House of Representatives

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