Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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The D.C. Council is calling officials from the city’s Department of Employment Services to testify at a hearing on problems with the District’s workers’ compensation program next month.

The Sept. 26 hearing in the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs, called by At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange, arises from Washington City Paper reports on an administrative law judge who rendered decisions for 16 years without a law license and a questionable era of budget management at DOES.

DOES has lacked consistent leadership for years, and the panel of judges that hears workers’ comp cases continues to suffer from attrition, internal stress, and dysfunction, according to the agency and myriad sources familiar with the program.

But a “specific focus” of the hearing, according to a letter from Orange to Interim DOES Director Tom Luparello, obtained by City Paper, is to examine budget transfers of workers’ comp assessments paid by local employers that were supposed to be restricted for the program.

Citing a City Paper report of figures released by DOES and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, which moved the money to the city’s general fund, Orange says he is “very interested” in transfers of $13.9 million that don’t appear to have been restored to the program.

“Providing credits to employers… is not a sufficient answer to what happened to the $13.9 million,” he wrote to Luparello, referring to a surplus of assessments that didn’t reach the program.

Orange also took note of OCFO disclosures, reported by City Paper, that showed the city collected $280 million from employers to run the program since 2000 but spent just $220 million. “Thus, $60 million needs to be accounted for,” he wrote. “The committee is also interested in receiving audited reports for the workers compensation funds.”

DOES has stated that its 2008 audit, the last one it performed, was never “finalized.”

Orange hasn’t asked anyone from the OCFO to appear before his committee. But he has summoned numerous DOES officials: General Counsel Tonya Sapp, Associate Director Mohammad Sheikh of the agency’s Labor Standards Bureau, and the chief judge of the Compensation Review Board, which hears appeals from workers comp cases, Lawrence D. Tarr.

And he has asked about 16 years’ worth of workers’ compensation claims that were adjudicated by Anand K. Verma, an administrative law judge who had no law license, as City Paper reported in February. Appeals of that judge’s rulings are being reviewed by the Compensation Review Board.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this post incorrectly mentioned turnover at the top of the Compensation Review Board. It is the Administrative Hearings Division, not the CRB, that’s had at least three top judges in the last three years.

UPDATE, 4:36 p.m.: Orange also has asked officials from the OCFO to testify at the hearing about transfers of restricted funds away from the workers’ comp program, including Cyril Byron Jr., associate CFO for the Economic Development and Regulation Cluster and a former member of the Office of Financial Operations and Systems.

Read the letters below:

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Photo by Darrow Montgomery