The wait is over, but the outcome is not what business groups and conservatives concerned about a re-energized, activist OSHA wanted.
Dr. David Michaels, an epidemiologist and professor at George Washington University in Washington, DC, was nominated by President Obama to be assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health back on July 28th. Since then, nary a word from, or about, Dr. Michaels has been heard.
Finally, late last week the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) announced an executive session, or business meeting, scheduled for this Wednesday, October 21, at 10:00 a.m. in the Dirksen Office Building Room-430 to rubber stamp approval of a host of executive-agency nominees â€” “any nominations cleared for action â€” 11 in total, including Dr. Michaels. Also to be approved (due to the Democratic majority on the committee) are three members of the National Labor Relations Board, two members of the National Council on the Humanities, and five members of the Legal Services Corporation.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers had recently written letters to the committee urging a hearing be held on Dr. Michaels’ nomination so he could be questioned on: 1) his position on issuing a new ergonomics standard, which the Department of Labor seems intent on pursuing; 2) his standards for scientific evidence to be used in standards-setting rulemaking, which his critics claim amounts to junk science; 3) his apparent opposition to permitting guns in company parking lots; 4) his supposed anti-business position as outlined in his 2008 book, “Doubt is their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health;” 5) his ties to trial lawyer groups and their possible financial contributions to his Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) project at George Washington University; 6) his support of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis’s shift from OSHA voluntary compliance to enforcement and standards-setting; and 7) his view on OSHA’s role in the present historic lows recorded for workplace injuries and illnesses.
Said theWashington Timesin an editorial published October 18: “To ram such an important and controversial nominee into office without benefit of a hearing is to deny the public's essential right to know. The procedural shortcut would be a travesty of representative government and a stain on the institution of the Senate.”
The website PointofLaw.com said: “We can only conclude that the Republican members of the HELP Committee did not demand a hearing, did not raise a fuss, didn't even bother with a perfunctory Senatorial hold. Perhaps they felt they weren't up to a fight.”
OSHA nominees traditionally have been accorded hearings by the HELP committee. Even Dr. Michaels’ supporters, such as the AFL-CIO, favored a question-and-answer session before his confirmation. Traditionally, OSHA nominees have proven to be elusive and vague in answering senators’ questions, offering scant opportunity to be pinned down on positions or timelines for actions.
Three factors could play into the lack of a hearing for Dr. Michaels: 1) the battle over healthcare reform reaching a fever pitch in the Senate; 2) the recent spate of ugly left versus right polarizing rhetoric over a host of issues; and 3) the fact that Dr. Michaels’ confirmation is a fait accompli due to the Democratic Senate majority.