WASHINGTON, D.C. | July 10, 2013 -
Today’s hearing is part of an effort that began last Congress to improve the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. In 2011 the House passed with strong bipartisan support a package of reforms that would have strengthened the FECA program. Among other provisions, the bill would have improved administrative efficiency, modernized various benefits, and strengthened the overall integrity of the law. While the legislation did not become law, it still represents good public policy and reflects our commitment to addressing this issue in a bipartisan way.
We recognized then – as we do now – that the bill passed by the House during the 112th Congress was simply a first step. Without a doubt more comprehensive changes are needed to ensure the FECA program is meeting the needs of workers and taxpayers. Toward that end, committee leaders asked the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office to examine proposals put forward by the Department of Labor. I am very pleased to have representatives from both GAO and the department with us this morning.
The department’s proposals would eliminate increased benefits for those employees with dependents, convert benefits to 50 percent of gross wages once an individual reaches retirement age, and implement a three day waiting period before an individual can draw continuation-of-pay benefits. These are significant changes to the FECA program, which is why a careful review by the GAO was both necessary and appropriate.
I will let the qualified experts describe in greater detail the GAO’s findings. However, the report does make a couple things clear. First, the department’s proposal would have a disproportionate impact on workers with dependents. Moving toward a single rate of wage loss compensation is worthy of consideration. However, we have to be mindful how this will affect federal employees with families, especially when their colleagues without dependents stand to gain financially.
The second point the GAO report makes clear is that there are no easy answers. Fundamentally, we are talking about men and women who suffer an injury or illness while employed by the federal government. But as with any government program, there will be those who try to take advantage of the system. In an article entitled “Experts say fraud rampant in federal worker disability program,” the Washington Examiner reveals a program plagued by waste, abuse, and inefficiencies. This is not acceptable, especially at a time when our nation faces a debt crisis.
Creating a program that prevents abuse by bad actors, reflects the realities of the 21st century, and provides adequate support to workers will require policymakers to make some tough choices, but we all agree maintaining the status quo is not an option. We have a responsibility to federal workers and federal taxpayers to create a stronger program, and I look forward to the work that lies ahead.
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