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Where's the new OSHA boss? (6/30)

June 26, 2009
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OK, in a few days it will be the Fourth of July. The Obama administration is near six months in office. And there is no news, even juicy rumors, as to the appointment of a permanent head of OSHA.

What are we to read into this delay?

By historical standards, even the notoriously tardy Clinton administration, this is one of the slowest nomination processes on record.

Of course, given the unpredictable and inscrutable ways of making political appointments in Washington, the new OSHA boss could be named any day now. Or weeks or months away.

Consider: Following President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration in 1977, Dr. Bingham was nominated, confirmed by the Senate, and running the agency by March, 1977.

Following President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981, Thorne Auchter was in place running OSHA by March, 1981.

The appointment process slowed noticeably during the two terms of President Bill Clinton. After his inauguration in Janaury, 1993, his pick for the top OSHA job, Joe Dear, was not appointed, confirmed, and running the show until November of 1993, almost a full year later. Following Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997, his nominee for OSHA administrator, Charles Jeffress, was not confirmed and in office until November, 1997, again, almost a full year later.

John Henshaw, President George W. Bush’s first pick to head OSHA after his election in 2000, did not begin his first day on the job until August, 2001.

We’re entering a Clinton-like timeframe again. After the new OSHA chief’s nomination announcement by the White House, Senate hearings on the appointment, and Senate confirmation (pretty much a slam dunk given the Democratic majority in the Senate), the next OSHA boss might not be running the show day to day until this fall. Again, almost a year after Obama’s inauguration.

“I feel like we’re wasting a whole year,” one OSHA watcher told ISHN. He requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speek for his organization.

“I realize Congress and the administration are busy tackling many things and looking for new ways to print and spend some more of our tax dollars, but they seem to have slowed down when it comes to some of these appointments. Note we don’t have anyone at NIOSH either,” said a second OSHA watcher, requesting anonymity for the same lack of authorization to speak publicly.”

This source continues: “Have things changed with (George Washington University professor) Dr. David Michaels? Hard to tell. I know he originally had no interest in the position and then a month or so ago it seemed he was back in the running and had it all locked up. Then – nothing! I thought all along the administration may be looking at Jordan (Barab, currently the acting OSHA head) and determining whether or not he has the ability to fill the slot. This may be what is happening. While industry probably doesn’t care for Jordan or David, I think industry would prefer Jordan. The thought is that at least Jordan listens once in a while.

“But bottom line – I have no idea why they have yet to nominate anyone.”

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