Records of federal employees' injury claims called unreliable

The Labor Department needs to find a better way to track whether it pays benefits to injured federal workers on time, according to a new General Accounting Office report.

Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) does not keep reliable records of dates when a claim is initiated and closed, making it hard to figure out whether the processing time is unreasonably long, the report (GAO-03-158R) said.

The House Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations commissioned the report in response to complaints from injured postal workers, who account for about one-third of the civilian federal workforce and receive about one-third third of the $2.1 billion handed out from the worker's compensation program.

GAO set out to determine if OWCP has a widespread problem of processing postal workers' claims slowly, and if so, if the problem occurs because workers do not submit the appropriate documents to verify eligibility. For its study, the watchdog agency reviewed a random sample of Federal Workers' Compensation Program cases filed by 484 Postal Service employees in 12 OWCP offices across the country from July 1997 to July 1998.

GAO determined that 99 percent of the time, injured postal workers presented all of the appropriate documentation to apply for benefits, but in nearly 70 percent of the cases, workers submitted incomplete information on their first attempt and OWPC had to request additional data, which caused a delay, the report said.

But some claims forms were missing dates, making it impossible for GAO to determine the extent to which slow claims processing was a problem in cases where all the appropriate information had been submitted on the first try, the report said. GAO recommended that the secretary of Labor and the postmaster general take steps to monitor the preparation and processing of postal workers' forms.

The Postal Service agreed with the report, and has taken actions to improve its method of submitting and tracking claims. Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs believed that the report was inaccurate, and is in the process of conducting its own review of its data system for tracking claims, according to GAO.

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