Cantwell, Murray Report Shows Dept. of Energy Must Improve Hanford Workers’ Compensation Program

Investigation Directed By Cantwell and Murray Uncovers Mismanagement Of Federal Funds, Hanford Worker Claims, and Improper Contractor Billing Practices

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report in response to Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Senator Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) March 2017 request to investigate  Penser North America, Inc., the third-party company who administers the Hanford Site Workers’ Compensation program, and the workers’ compensation claims process as a whole at Hanford. The Senators sent the letter after Hanford workers and union representation expressed concerns last year that workers’ compensation claims, including claims made after exposure to dangerous materials at the workplace, were being processed and treated in an unfair or ineffective manner.

In conjunction with this investigation, Ranking Member Cantwell and Senator Murray played a critical role in establishing of the Hanford Workforce Engagement Center. Senator Murray, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, and Senator Cantwell successfully included a provision in the Fiscal Year 2018 spending bill directing the Department to establish a resource center to help current and former Hanford workers navigate the claims process. The center officially opened on May 3rd and has already assisted over 1,500 workers claims queries.

“This report should act as a wakeup call for the Department of Energy that improving safety and supporting workers at Hanford is a never-ending job. Over and over these investigations show that lack of communication and transparency leads to mistrust between workers and the Department,” said Senator Cantwell. “I will continue to hold the Department of Energy accountable for protecting current and future Hanford workers who deserve respect for their incredible sacrifice and determination.”

“The men and women on the frontlines of Hanford cleanup often work in extremely hazardous conditions and deserve all the protections and care available without hassle or delay,” said Sen. Murray. “Now that we have the Inspector General’s report in hand, I will do everything in my power to ensure the Department of Energy follows through on these new recommendations to help make sure workers always come first throughout this complicated cleanup mission.” 

According to the report, many of the claims documentation packages issued by Penser to Washington State’s Labor and Industries (L&I) were found to be incomplete by the OIG. The report concluded that DOE does not have effective processes, procedures, and controls over the Workers’ Compensation Program at Hanford and identified problems with: 

•   Incomplete documentation packages sent to L&I

•   A major billing and payment discrepancy with L&I related to pension benefits costs; 

•   Questioned Penser’s charges relating to indemnity claims; 

•   Concerns with the letter of credit processes; and 

•   Communication and trust. 

As a result of the investigation, the OIG found that the Department must drastically change course and increase its involvement in all aspects of the Workers’ Compensation Program including:

•   Strengthening its review and control of documentation, claims determinations, and financial controls;

•   Continue to improve communication, education, and advocacy by further empowering new resources such as the Hanford Worker Engagement Center, which is a critical tool to educate workers on how to most effectively file and navigate the claims process;

•   Increase transparency about claim determinations to reduce conflict and worker perceptions that claims are being unfairly managed.  

The Senators strongly urge the Department to work immediately to rectify the alarming problems outlined in this report and request that the OIG continues to review the Department's progress in implementing the new recommendations within this report.  

A full copy of the report is available here.