More than a month into the Obama administration, there’s increasing chatter in Washington corridors about who will be appointed assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.
Sources have toldISHNthat Peg Seminario, head of the AFL-CIO’s safety and health efforts and the most quoted spokesperson on OSHA issues for organized labor in the past 20 years, has been the front runner for weeks, helped by the support of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s office and numerous unions. But this week sources tellISHNthat Seminario’s candidacy has run into serious if not appointment-killing problems stemming from her 25+ years as a union lobbyist for safety and health issues.
If Seminario’s candidacy founders, competition for the OSHA chief post is wide open, according to sources. Former NIOSH director Dr. John Howard has been linked to the position ever since the November election, but he is also now mentioned possibly returning to his old NIOSH job on an acting basis for starters (Dr. Howard is still employed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and this week a contingent of New York congressional reps wrote a letter to President Obama requesting that Dr. Howard be reappointed to another job he once held, that of 9/11 “health czar” overseeing the medical monitoring and treatment of Ground Zero responders and nearby residents exposed to the smoldering ruins.
Speaking of déjà vu all over again, former OSHA chief in the latter Clinton years, Charles Jeffress, has been mentioned by sources as possibly returning to his old job. Jeffress has been advising the Obama administration on potential OSHA candidates, and could be a compromise choice. But one source tellsISHNJeffress is not interested in returning to Washington; another source says Sen. Kennedy’s office wants a fresh face and fresh start at OSHA.
Three other names have been mentioned by sources toISHN: Peter De Luca, former head of the respected Oregon OSHA program who is now retired; Jordan Barab, policy analyst for OSHA issues on the House Education and Labor Committee; and Hamid Arabzedeh, CIH, a Southern California consultant and former local chapter president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, who has made several trips to Washington recently apparently seeking political support, according to several sources, and who one source describes as “surprisingly well-connected in the Obama administration.”
All three have potential downsides, sources tellISHN: De Luca is retired and away from the day-to-day fray; Barab may carry baggage as an avid supporter of Seminario’s candidacy, and Arabzedeh shares Southern California roots with Labor Secretary Solis, and the administration may not want an “LA monopoly” at DOL.
Sources tellISHNthat the final decision on OSHA’s next boss could be one or two months away, with the new chief not being confirmed by the Senate and going to work before the summer.