July 28, 2008 3:16 PM
Department of Labor responds to 'Deadly Denial' series - if you can call it a response
Forty-five days after the Rocky's Laura Frank sent the Department of Labor the findings of our 'Deadly Denial' series for comment, she finally received a response - an e-mail apparently sent at 9:41 p.m. Friday night that can only be described as a personal attack.
It's bizarre that a top official with the federal government would send such an e-mail as the first response to an in-depth investigation. I think it reveals the attitude of the department when it comes to accountability for this program. By the way, the e-mail came 45 days after a formal, written request for comment. But it came more than two months after a request for a formal interview with the official in charge, Shelby Hallmark.
Here's the Labor Department e-mail.
From: James, David - OPA [mailto:James.David@dol.gov]
Sent: Friday, July 25, 2008 7:41 PM
To: Frank, Laura
Subject: Shelby, etc
Steadily your pieces have omitted much information and consistently demonstrate a lack of knowledge of jurisdictional boundaries between federal agencies and do not serve your readers and the affected workers in your region in a positive way. Time and again we have tried to work with you in the most candid way possible. And time and again you have inserted wrong information and or opinion into your pieces - or have chosen not to learn basic facts. For example I still do not think you know the difference between NIOSH and the DOL, something which every time we thought you understood, your copy did not reflect that. This Department does everything it can to help sick workers in this country and gets generally positive feedback for its work.
That said, to the self-fulfilling prophecy you have tried to create in your coverage regarding Mr. Hallmark, here is a statement on the record:
"Shelby Hallmark is and will be the head of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs. Rumors, suggestions, and questions to the contrary by the Rocky Mountain News, and only by Rocky Mountain News reporter Laura Frank are false and continue the run of sloppy journalism by this reporter which has instilled unnecessary fears in the affected communities."
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Public Affairs
Hopefully now you do not need to call through out building and around the Hill for this obvious answer.
Here's Laura's response
From: Frank, Laura
Sent: Monday, July 28, 2008 12:35 PM
To: 'James, David - OPA'
Subject: RE: Shelby, etc
Monday, July 28, 2008
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Public Affairs
Via e-mail: James.David@dol.gov
I received the e-mail you sent at 9:41 Friday night. As you know, some members of Congress are concerned that the Labor Department is not responding to questions about the way your department is administering the compensation program for sick nuclear weapons workers. I am copying some Congressional offices on this e-mail so they will be aware of your response.
In your Friday night e-mail, you said DOL had been "candid" with the Rocky Mountain News. In the spirit of candidness, please answer the following questions, many of which are still pending 48 days after the Rocky first sent DOL details of our investigation into the compensation program. If you need it, more context on these issues can be found at www.RockyMountainNews.com/special-reports/deadly-denial
1. Why doesn't DOL recognize well-established toxic links to certain diseases on what claimants have come to call the "no pay" list or in DOL's site exposure matrices?
2. Why doesn't DOL tell claimants which toxic substances its data show they (or their claimed worker) were exposed to?
3. Why hasn't DOL done anything to accommodate sick Navajo uranium workers or others who are too ill to take the required tests to prove they're sick enough for compensation?
4. Why is DOL withholding from claimants the health physics reports it uses to deny their claims?
5. Please explain the difference between the 15,000 paid claims DOL cited in a statement to the Rocky Mountain News and the 42,000 paid claims listed on your website.
6. Please tell us how many "director's orders" to rework/reopen claims were issued for each type of cancer, for each site and for each year.
7. How many claims were paid on the claimant's first attempt at compensation (with no recommended decision to deny)? How many were paid on each of the second, third and subsequent tries?
8. Please tell us the number of times any DOL official has asked that a claimant or potential claimant be put under any type of surveillance or "undercover"/unannounced observation, and whether that observation occurred.
Your e-mail also referenced concern that I do not understand the difference in roles between NIOSH and DOL. If you could point out a place in our series where those roles are incorrect, we would be happy to correct it.
Rocky Mountain News
101 W. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80202
Why doesn't the department deal with the substance of the series?