Monday, October 18, 2004

OSHA's Future in a Bush or Kerry Administration

There are two recent articles that speculate about what lies in store for OSHA under either a second Bush or a Kerry admnistration.

Jim Nash tackles the subject in Occupational Hazards. It's clear that labor has been unhappy with Bush's reign -- from the early days of the administration which saw the repeal of the Ergnomics standard to almost four years later where we've not seen the issuance of a single new standard. Nash notes that labor isn't the only constituency that is disappointed:
Not all business groups are satisfied with OSHA's failure to promulgate standards. "To some extent they've become a 'one-trick pony': alliances, guidance and partnerships," comments Frank White, vice president in the Washington, D.C. office of Organization Resources Counselors (ORC) Inc., a consulting firm that represents many of the nation's largest companies.

While recognizing the complex hurdles that block OSHA rulemaking, White believes OSHA needs to find ways to overcome these challenges.

"I think it's a fundamental function of OSHA to issue standards. I don't think OSHA can say implicitly by their failure to issue new standards, 'we're stymied by the system,' so we'll divert our attention to guidelines and alliances."
In addition, Bush's OSHA seems to have united all sides about two issues: it's failure to address the problem of updating antiquated Permissible Exposure Limits for toxic chemicals and the attempt to reorganize NIOSH.

After the past four years, life won't be easy under a Kerry administration, but disasterous with another four years of Bush:
After the failure of the ergonomics standard and 4 years of voluntarism, some current and former OSHA employees say whomever is named to head OSHA will find a national headquarters drained of morale and rulemaking talent. Just as the budget deficits will limit OSHA initiatives, this brain drain may hinder new rulemaking.

But while industry leaders and OSHA insiders wonder how much difference the election will have on the government's approach to workplace safety, labor leaders are convinced this election is a critical turning point.

"If we have 4 more years of Bush and Cheney," predicts [AFL-CIO Health and Safety Director Peg] Seminario, "you'll have an OSHA and an MSHA that will basically be consultation agencies to help business."
Nash also speculates about what effect the outcome of the battle for control of the Senate will have on OSHA.

Aside from legislation that seems to go nowhere in an evenly diviced Senate, there is one imporant role that has been missing in a Republicans controlled Senate:
The AFL-CIO's Peg Seminario and Randall Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce don't often see eye to eye on OSHA issues, but they agree about one thing: when it comes to the control of Congress, it's OSHA oversight - not legislation or appropriations - that's most critical.

"I think one thing reporters miss about changes in elections is Congress's oversight function," says Johnson, who used to work in the Department of Labor under President Ronald Reagan, when Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., sat in the oversight chair. "I'm familiar with the pressure that can be brought to bear on an administration by Senate oversight, and believe me, it is significant."
Newsday finished its series (here, here and here)on the Bush administrations regulatory failures with an article speculating about what a Kerry administration would mean for worker and environmental protections:
In the mid-1990s when Republicans in Congress were pushing to make regulations harder to enact, consumer, labor and environmental groups sought an ally committed to government oversight and capable of grasping the complexity of the rules.

Their choice was John Kerry. Since coming to Congress in 1985, Kerry had advocated the stricter regulatory agenda that liberal groups say will protect consumers, workers and the environment but that businesses charge hurt the economy.

Now as Kerry runs for president, many close advisers come from those special-interest groups, and his platform supports some of their causes. So would a Kerry presidency, advocates say.

That's what worries business groups that have supported the Bush presidency's drive to eliminate what it describes as burdensome regulation.