Unaccountability, Continued

By November 20, 2009Labor Unions, Regulations

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) issued a statement accompanying his no vote in the Senate HELP Committee Wednesday opposing the nomination of David Michaels to be head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

When considering nominations of this magnitude, there is no substitute for a hearing that is public and open to the American people. Unfortunately, a full open hearing on the nominee was not held. It is difficult to vote on a nominee to hold such an important position based largely on discussions and correspondence that occur out of the public’s eye. The position of assistant secretary for OSHA is too important a job to leave to a behind-the-scenes process that excludes the ability of all stakeholders in our workplace safety system to give their perspectives.

Evading a hearing also sets a terrible precedent; as noted previously, President George W. Bush’s OSHA nominee appeared before a confirmation hearing to answer questions.

Burr and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) were the only two votes against Michaels when the committee voted out his nomination. (See previous Shopfloor.org post.)

Matthew Madia of OMB Watch, supportive of Michaels’ nomination, commented at the group’s blog:

The HELP Committee voted on Michaels despite failing to hold a confirmation hearing. As I have mentioned before, I think bypassing the hearing was a mistake. OSHA is a major regulatory agency, and the leaders of such agencies should, as a rule of thumb, go before the Senate committee of jurisdiction to explain their views and qualifications. A hearing also would have provided an opportunity for Harkin and others to voice their support for Michaels on the record, and to explain exactly why he is well-qualified to lead OSHA. Michaels has been criticized, unfairly in my opinion, by some of those who fear he would take a proactive role in writing and enforcing protections for workers. (More here.)

The general point is right, although the final sentence is rhetorical silliness. Employers groups don’t stand around saying, “That guy scares us. He’ll be proactive in protecting workers.” The objections to Michaels are based on his criticism of Daubert standards that limit the introduction of junk science into civil litigation, his writings that express a reactive, hostile view toward business, and his alignment with the litigation industry.

It’s those issues that should have been explored at a Senate hearing, a hearing that would have given Michaels an opportunity to respond to the criticisms. Someone in a position of power determined that his nomination would not be helped by a committee hearing, and that decision did a disservice to the public and Michaels both.

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