Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bush's Appointment of Stickler To MSHA: "A Sign Of Stubbornness and Weakness"

Washington Post regulatory columnist Cindy Skrzycki describes what's so wrong with President Bush's recess appointment of Richard Stickler as head of MSHA.
The Senate sent Richard Stickler' s nomination to become the top U.S. mine-safety official back to the White House -- twice. Widows and relatives of dead miners pleaded that he not be given the job. Stickler lacked the support of lawmakers from key mining states, and some newspaper editorials criticized him as an industry insider.

None of this fazed the White House. When Congress departed for its Election Day recess, President Bush on Oct. 19 made Stickler head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration in the Department of Labor. His tenure will last though the end of the Senate's next session, sometime next year.

In Washington parlance, it's called a recess appointment, a maneuver often used by the White House to bypass political opposition. The Senate goes out on recess, leaving the door open for the president to put in his choice. It's sort of like appointing a chief executive without the board of directors getting a vote.
And according to Skrzycki, there are a few other notable observers who also think it was a bad thing:
"It strikes me as a sign of stubbornness and weakness," said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University and an expert on the executive branch. "Recess appointments can do a great deal of damage and not have the support of the agency. It sets the stage for intense conflict over rules" between the career staff members and the unconfirmed appointee.
And then there's our friend Tony Oppegard:

The Mine Safety and Health Administration "has been run by industry insiders," said Tony Oppegard , former general counsel to Kentucky's mine safety agency and an adviser at MSHA during the Clinton administration. "The whole emphasis has been on compliance assistance. It's been a major failure of the administration. They don't look for safety advocates."
But there might be one silver lining emerging from this, according to Skrzycki:
The recess appointment may also ensure that thousands of members of the United Mine Workers of America, which opposed the nomination, get out to vote against Republicans next week, according to union spokesman Phil Smith.

"In doing this, he [Bush] has said what he is going to say about how important coal miners are, even in states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia where his supporters are looking for votes," Smith said.