White House Vows to Retain Nuclear Workers’ Benefit Program

June 8, 2006

The Bush administration will continue to support a benefits program for Cold War-era nuclear weapons workers, President Bush’s budget director says.

Rob Portman pledged to support the five-year-old program in a letter to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

The letter, which Obama released last week, was written about three months after a White House budget document discussing ways to scale back the program became public.

That earlier document, first reported by The Associated Press, stated that the White House would lead an interagency working group to develop ways “to contain growth in the costs of benefits” provided under the program. It also stated that the working group would discuss whether “administration clearance” should be required before groups of workers are deemed eligible for compensation.

A decision is expected soon on whether one group of former workers at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., should get automatic compensation under the program, meaning they wouldn’t have to go through a lengthy approval process.

In his letter to Obama, Portman said the administration “is not pursuing any changes to modify benefit costs” of the program. He also said it was not instituting any White House-led interagency workgroup.

“This administration will also continue to meet the statutory requirement that the Advisory Board reflect a balance of scientific, medical and worker perspectives,” Portman said about a review board that oversees the program.

Worker advocates say there should be more workers on the advisory board. Two workers are on the 11-person board.

Under the program, workers get $150,000 plus medical benefits.

“This letter doesn’t allay all of my concerns, but it’s an important step in the right direction,” Obama said. “This is an issue I will monitor closely to ensure that budgetary decisions don’t trump the advice of scientists and prevent injured workers from receiving the compensation they deserve.”

On the Net:
Compensation Program: http://www.eh.doe.gov/advocacy/

White House Office of Management and Budget:

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