Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bush To Appoint Anti-Regulatory Zealot To Run White House Regulatory Affairs Office

The Washington Post warns today of a possible Bush appointment that should send chills down the spines of anyone concerned about worker safety, the environment or consumer protection.

The job is director of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which approves all environmental, health and safety and other government regulations. Her name is Susan Dudley, director of the regulatory studies program at George Mason University's anti-regulatory Mercatus Center. According to Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch, Dudley is "a true anti-regulatory zealot."

The Mercatus Center is notorious for far-fetched justifications to kill protective regulations. They are fond of exagerating the cost of regulations and attempting to incite anti-government rebellion by describing the amount of space that the Code of Federal Regulations takes up. (20 feet of shelf space, according to Dudley.)

I first wrote about a crazy Mercatus study that found that OSHA inspections kill workers.

Huh? You say. This is how it works:
When the firm increases its efforts because of OSHA enforcement, the worker rationally substitutes away from his own efforts. That is, if the firm is doing more to protect the worker, the worker has less incentive to protect himself. (emphases added)
I attempted to imagine how this works....

OSHA comes out to inspect a workplace and cites the employer after finding safety problems. So far, so good. But according to Mercatus,
The typical "rational" worker, figuring that OSHA has forced his employer to be more responsible, now "has less incentive to protect himself." No sooner does the employer finally get serious about safety then workers suddenly start jumping down into unshored trenches, crawling down into unmonitored confined spaces, sticking themselves with HIV-contaminated needles and climbing tall buildings without fall protection. "Respirators? We don't need no stinking respirators!"
That's Mercatus.

Like the rest of Mercatus, Dudley is known for conjuring up all kinds of reason why protective regulations are killing our country. She opposed OSHA the deceased ergonomics standard on the grounds that all employers really needed was more information and they would automatically do the right thing. Furthermore, OSHA's ergonomics standard would "discourage individual responsibility and hinder innovation into creative solutions."

Dudley also directed the Bush Administration's transition team for the Assistant Secretary designate of the Office of Environment, Safety, and Health at the Department of Energy. That would be former Assistant Secretary Bev Cook, who did such a good job trying to torpedo the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICPA) that Republican Senators Jim Bunning and others had her fired. (The program seeks to compensate workers for the illnesses caused by their work on the nation's Cold War nuclear weapons complex. ) The Government Accountability Office recently found that the office, under Cooks supervision, had squandered 30 percent of the $92 million in total program funds in improper and questionable payments.

That DOE office, which is responsible for the health and safety of DOE contractors' employees, is the same program that current Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman is trying to abolish.

Dudley is also an advocate of incorporating "sunset" provisions into all regulations, which would mean they's be eliminated unless Congress votes to continue them. Goodbye OSHA, EPA, FDA.

Mecatus, meanwhile, is well known as a ""wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch industries and other corporate interests," as the Post article describes.
Koch (pronounced "coke") has given many millions to Mercatus, but other companies also have contributed a bit as well.

Over the years, those contributors have included Fannie Mae, Microsoft, Pfizer and Enron, which have donated about $50,000, plus $10,000 from the late Kenneth L. Lay and his wife's foundation.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, Koch money controls or strongly influences a number of leading conservative institutions, including the Cato Institute (co-founded by Charles Koch), the Tax Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the Federalist Society, and Citizens for a Sound Economy, which was founded in 1984 by Charles and David H. Koch and Koch executive Richard Fink .
What did Mercatus do for its corporate benefactors?
In the early days of President Bush's first term, when the OMB asked for public input on which regulations should be revised or killed, Mercatus submitted 44 of the 71 proposals the OMB received. And the OMB approved 15 of them, the National Journal reported at the time.

These recommendations critiqued onerous regulations such as a proposed Interior Department rule prohibiting snowmobiles in Rocky Mountain National Park, a Transportation Department rule limiting truckers' hours behind the wheel, and that silly EPA rule limiting the amount of arsenic in drinking water. (Hey! You don't want it? Don't drink it.)
If it's true, it should make for some interesting election-year Senate hearings.

Update: I missed this last week, but here's more on Dudley at Daily Kos.