WASHINGTON, D.C. | May 12, 2011 -
It has been nearly 100 years since the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson. The law establishes a program for federal workers to receive compensation for lost wages, medical care, and rehabilitation services resulting from an injury or illness incurred in a work-related activity. In the event of a death from a work-related injury or illness, survivor benefits are provided to the worker’s immediate family and loved ones. The law reflects our commitment to support the men and women who serve our nation in the federal workforce.
The program is administered by the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. Claims for compensation are received, processed, and reviewed by OWCP staff. While several avenues for appeal are available to employees, decisions rendered by the Department of Labor are final and not subject to review by any federal agency or court.
Today, roughly three million federal workers are eligible to participate in the program. During fiscal year 2010, an estimated $2.8 billion in compensation was paid to beneficiaries. Yet, despite the size and cost of the program, it has not been significantly updated or reformed in nearly forty years.
As with any federal program left unchecked, waste and inefficiencies often emerge and can result in a program that serves neither workers nor taxpayers well. This is unacceptable. In recent years, the challenges facing the FECA program have become more and more evident.
Workers in rural areas can have limited access to medical care, undermining their ability to file a claim. The level of compensation in many ways is outdated, such as providing assistance for funeral expenses based on average costs that existed in 1949. The law limits access to rehabilitation services designed to help an employee return to work. We have also seen some cases where employees can receive compensation in excess of their total wages, creating a strong disincentive for those employees to return to work.
These are just a few of the deficiencies that must be addressed. Toward that end, the administration is to be commended for putting forward a number of ideas to reform the FECA program.
The administration’s proposal includes streamlining compensation for lost wages for all beneficiaries and allowing physician assistants and nurse practitioners to sign off on a worker’s initial claim. To address the accuracy of the program, the administration’s proposes allowing greater access to wage information housed at the Social Security Administration.
The administration’s proposals build upon the efforts of previous administrations to modernize federal workers’ compensation. However, these ideas are not without questions or concerns, and that's why we are here today: to ask the tough questions, discuss the concerns of members and interested stakeholders, and begin moving forward in a responsible way.
Especially during times of economic uncertainty and trillion-dollar deficits, it is critical policymakers work to ensure every taxpayer dollar is being well-spent. Any opportunity to better serve workers in need of assistance and spend taxpayer dollars more efficiently should be encouraged. I look forward to working with all of my colleagues in advancing this shared goal.