The Federal agency that decides on workmen's compensation claims by injured government employes paid 10 times more awards to its own personnel last year than to other U.S. agencies of comparable size, according to a forthcoming report by the House Appropriations Committee.
The agencies is the Labor Department's Office of Workmen's Compensation Programs.It is the government-wide administrator of the Federal Employes Compensation Program, which pays out funds to U.S. employes who are injured or become ill as a result of their work.
"Yet at the end of the year it reported a total of 156 cases of employes who had received one or more benefit payments under the Federal Employes Compensation Act with benefits totalling $570,411.
"For comparison purpose we also looked at the record of five other small agencies (average employment 1,431). On the average these agencies had 16 cases of employes receiving payments during the year and total benefits of $29,450 per agency."
The committee said OWCP executives appeared just as prone to illness as their underlings and shared in the payments. Five of them received compensation payments (three due to "stress-related" conditions) in the $23,000 to $31,000 range in 1977.
One of this group, the report said, was a part-timer who had earned only $15,640 the year before he slipped and injured himself getting out of a chair. The OWCP, citing "discretion" allowed it in the law, figured the maln would have earned $32,531 had been working full-time, and awarded him $25,326 in tax-free benefits his first full year on the compensation roll.
By contrast, the Federal Power Commission, with 1,363 employes, had only nine compensation cases; the Federal Communications Commission 14, and three other small agencies between 7 and 33. While OWCP employes were awarded $570,411 for the year, total compensation awarded to injured employes in the five other small agencies combined was less than $150,000.
"While the frustration of OWCP (executives) are recognized," the committee investigators said, "the stresses and strains of executive responsibility are not unique to OWCP. Other executives, however, lack knowledge about the (compensation) program and are more inclined to accept many routine physical problems as a normal part of the job."
The House investigators didn't attempt to explain why OWCP personnel were able to win compensation awards for themselves at such a disproportionate rate, except to observe drily that there is a "correlation between awareness of how the compensation program works and increased claims."
The investigators, however did launch an all-out attack on the OWCP in its conduct of the whole governmentwide compensation program, asserting that costs had skyroceted from $190 million in 1972 to $700 million this year although the size of the government workforce was stable.
It said OWCP "invites outright abuse" because of "bias in favor of the employe," poor administration and such practices as "accepting the employe's allegations and the personal physician's statement even though the OWCP medical officer did not have the facts he needed to make a decision in 40 percent of the cases reviewed."
The report also said there apppeared to be substantial abuse of the compensation program by government-employed air traffic controllers, with claims filed for a grossly disproportionate number of cuts, bruises and upset stomachs.
The report said "stress-related" cases amounted to 77 percent of controller claims and that controllers have "the only line of work where an employe can at will effectively disqualify himself. All he has to do is allege a nervous or other condition impairing his ability to seperate traffic, and the supervisor must take him off the job. He cannot take a chance the employe is faking."
The report said one controller was able to get 40 hours off with pay for chest pains due to "reaction to supervisor discussion," another 10 hours for a cut hand when a salt-shaker slipped and hit a table, and another 224 hours after "bumped head searching for a head-piece set."
Assistant Secretary of Labor Don Elisburg, who heads the division of the Labor Department that includes OWCP, made the following statement: "That report is one of a number I inherited here that generally reflect the state of disarray I found within the agency. There are a whole litany of things that we want to do to put the agency on a different basis."
"There is one thing on which I would dispute the report - the question of whether our own people are dumping themselves into the program. It appears that the figures are acumulative number of several years and that only two cases of compensation were added in the last year. They're adding up people already on the rolls."