Labor Secretary talks nominations, safe jobs at Senate hearing

I had one ear tuned this morning to the webcast of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s appearance before a subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee on his Department’s FY 2018 budget request. You never know what bumble bee might be in a lawmaker’s bonnet or how they might use their time to gush about Department-funded pet project in their home State. That’s why I tuned in.

Two moments during the hearing were most memorable to me. The first involved Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander (R). He is not satisfied with the Administration’s slow pace of nominating individuals for top jobs at the Labor Department, such as the nominees to lead OSHA and MSHA.

The Senator remarked:

President Trump is setting some records for not sending up subcabinet nominees for us to consider. Under President Obama, had sent 10 Dept of Labor nominees by now, President Bush had sent 9, President Trump has sent 2.  ….When are we going to get some more nominations for your Department? [43:00]

 Labor Secretary Acosta responded:

I appreciate the question. I am approaching my own 60 day mark as Secretary. I have set as a personal goal to have the vast majority of my sub department leadership identified and in clearance at the 60 day mark. I believe that goal is something that can be reached.

Hmmm….60 days.  If the Secretary is referring to calendar days, his choices are already going through background checks and likely being interviewed.  If his count only includes Monday through Friday, he has until the end of July to meet his goal. [For comparison, President Obama nominated MSHA chief Joe Main in early July 2009 and late that month nominated OSHA chief David Michaels, PhD.]

A second memorable moment—not so much memorable as interesting—occurred when the Labor Secretary was reading his prepared remarks. They were an abbreviated version of his longer written testimony and deviated slightly from that written text. I was paying particular attention to his comments about worker safety. I listened for phrases that might have distinguished him from his predecessors.

The following are a few statements from Secretary Acosta’s testimony today and statements from his two immediate predecessors: Hilda Solis and Tom Perez. Can you match the statement with the correct Labor Secretary? (Answers at the end of the post.)

  1. “The Department believes that a vast majority of employers across the nation are responsible actors, fully committed to following worker protection laws.”
  2. “The vast majority of employers want to keep their workers safe.”
  3. “The Department has placed a priority on helping American employers understand and remain in compliance with those laws, but the Department likewise takes very seriously its responsibility to enforce the law.”
  4. “Enforcement must go hand-in-hand with compliance assistance. We will vigorously enforce the law against wrong doers. A good job should also be a safe job.”
  5. “OSHA uses enforcement and compliance assistance activities to ensure that this nation’s employees are able to return home safely from work every day.”

Secretary Acosta defended his budget proposal’s plan to shift $2 million from OSHA enforcement activities to compliance assistance. He explained it this way:

“When I was a United States attorney, I would talk in chambers about prosecuting cases, but preventing wrong doing in the first place is more successful. Isn’t it better to have a traffic light that prevents accidents rather than give people tickets after the accident has occurred?” (56:20)

But his stoplight analogy doesn’t work for me. A stoplight is an intervention designed to reduce vehicle crashes. It’s not compliance assistance. It’s a prevention step. The OSHA equivalent to his traffic light example are safety regulations to prevent injuries, such as fall protection standards or rules governing confined spaces. Instead of making the case for compliance assistance, the Secretary’s traffic light example argues the benefits of regulations.

Answers to matching game

Solis: #5; Perez: #2; Acosta: #1, #3, #4.

 

Article source:Science Blogs

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