OSHA has gone the way of the corporate world, announcing a reorganization that bears the stamp of the Bush administration's desire for a more user-friendly, tightly controlled agency.

Sources say the moves are part of a broader Department of Labor effort to rein in agencies like OSHA that have "run their own ranches" in the past, according to one insider. "The bottom line is, the reorg is about greater oversight and the increased emphasis on outreach and education," says the source.

"Bush wants OSHA off business's back, and this is a way of showing it," says another Washington OSHA-watcher. Several sources say the reengineering job is really a product of the Labor Department's front office, and reflects ideas from Sen. Mike Enzi's (R-Wyo.) failed bill to reform OSHA several years ago. Former Enzi aide Chris Spear is now the department's assistant secretary for policy.

Key changes

  • A compliance assistance organization, the Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs, headed by Paula White, formalizes Republican-backed plans to expand OSHA's compliance programs, training, outreach and education programs.

  • A new Office of Small Business Assistance has been created as part of the directorate, along with an Office of Partnerships and Recognition and an Office of Outreach Services and Alliances, both designed to reach out to the business and employer communities.

    The current offices of State Programs and Training and Education will remain unchanged.

  • A new Directorate of Standards and Guidance will replace the existing two directorates that develop and issue standards: the Directorate of Health Standards and the Directorate of Safety Standards. Long-time agency staffer Steve Witt heads up this directorate.

    All safety and health standards development activities now will be integrated, streamlining OSHA's rulemaking activities, according to agency officials. A new function will be added to the Directorate of Standards and Guidance: planning, developing and managing non-regulatory approaches, such as the recently announced voluntary ergonomics "best practices" initiative.

    The Paperwork Reduction Act function as it relates to standards-setting will be consolidated in one staff that reports to the Director, Directorate of Standards and Guidance.

  • The Directorate of Policy has been replaced with the Directorate of Evaluation and Analysis to better monitor and measure the agency's performance and to track its progress against strategic objectives, according to an OSHA statement. This will include on-site audits of regional and area office operations.

    The Office of Statistics, currently part of the Directorate of Information Technology, will be transferred to the new directorate. The Office of Regulatory Analysis will continue to be a part of the Directorate of Evaluation and Analysis. The Correspondence Control Unit will also move to the new directorate.

  • The agency will also rename its Directorate of Compliance Programs as the Directorate of Enforcement to "clarify and emphasize the strong enforcement that will continue to be pursued under the new restructuring," according to the agency statement.

    Several management layers will be removed within the directorate. The Office of General Industry Compliance Assistance will become the Office of General Industry Enforcement, and its subordinate divisions will be eliminated. In a parallel change, the Office of Health Compliance Assistance will be renamed the Office of Health Enforcement, and its subordinate divisions will also be eliminated. The current Division of Maritime Assistance will be elevated to an office level, and will be renamed the Office of Maritime Enforcement. The current Office of 11(c) Programs will be renamed the Office of Investigative Assistance.

  • The name of the Directorate of Technical Support has been changed to the Directorate of Science, Technology and Medicine.

  • The current Office of Reinvention, a creation of the Clinton era, will be eliminated. The staff of that organization will be reassigned to the new Directorate of Evaluation and Analysis, where they will work on performance measurement, program evaluation and customer service-related functions.

    Explanations & opinions

    "The workers in this country, and the businesses and organizations that employ them, deserve the very best performance from OSHA," explains agency chief John L. Henshaw. "This reorganization realigns our resources and functions around proven strategies that will produce the best results in reducing workplace injuries and illnesses."

    Not everyone shares Henshaw's view. Opinions run the gamut, as they usually do with any OSHA move. A union safety official describes the reorg as "pandering to small businesses" and adds, "no matter what OSHA does, small businesses will always hate the agency." Labor leaders also fear a shift in resources away from standards-setting.

    "John Henshaw made it clear from the start that he thought more compliance could be achieved if employers had more assistance rather than just getting threatened with more citations, so I'm pleased to see that he has found a way to make this happen," said Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) in a statement.

    Another source with Republican ties focused on tighter oversight of OSHA, calling it a "renegade agency." He says "the pompous attitude of some of the OSHA people has been too much", and the Bush administration planned for closer scrutiny of the agency since taking office. He expects tougher, more independent internal auditing. "It sends a message to the OSHA staff that it will be harder to cover up mistakes in policies and procedures," says this source.

    What should safety and health pros take away from all this office shuffling? "OSHA is evolving," says one source. "This is the future. You won't see a lot of prosecutions and standards. It's about training and education."

    This is how the Bush administration hopes to permanently change OSHA's culture, says another source.