FollowingÂ The Pump Handle’s July 8 postÂ “Secret Rule on OSHA Risk Assessment”Â (and July 10Â here), a front-page Washington PostÂ article provides more details on the Bush Administration’s plan toÂ “reform”Â the system used by OSHA and MSHA to assess workers’ riskÂ from toxicÂ materials.Â In U.S. Rushes to Change Workplace Toxin Rules, Post reporter Carol Leonnig obtained a draft copy of the proposed rule,Â which would direct the risk assessment assumptions and procedures used by MSHA and OSHAÂ when developing regulations to protect workers health hazards.Â Leonnig reports that Bush appointee, lawyer and “ethics advisor” Deborah Misir in DOL’sÂ Office of Policy worked with a contractor to develop the new risk asssessment plan, intentionally leaving career scientists out of the process.
Well, well, it’s the same old playbook for theÂ Bush Administration:Â Leave out the career staff who know most about the topic, assign a political appointee with no expertiseÂ to manage the process, and pay a hand-selected contractor to do the work.Â Â That would beÂ bad enough, but it getsÂ worse.
The hand-selected contractor, who the Wash Post reports wasÂ paidÂ $349,000 to prepare the newÂ risk-assessment plan, is Ms. Diane Furchtgott-Roth,Â a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.Â She’s well connected to the Bush Administration: she served as the chief of staffÂ atÂ the Council of Economic Advisers from 2001 to 2003, and then moved to DOL to serve fromÂ February 2003 until April 2005 asÂ Secretary Chao’sÂ chief economist.Â (And you’ll love this one: she was anÂ American Petroleum Institute economist fromÂ 1987 to 1991.)Â Â Â Her firm Furchtgott-Roth Economic Enterprises: “solves business problems using economics,” preparing “risk” assessments related to “investment opportunities,” “financial risk management,” and “trading and investment portfolios.”Â
Huh?Â Â What aboutÂ expertise inÂ health sciences,Â epidemiology orÂ public health?Â Â Oh, sorry, this is the G.W. Bush playbook.
Last week, whenÂ Secretary Chao’s office gets wind thatÂ a Washington Post reporter and others are asking questions aboutÂ her mysterious risk assessment proposalÂ under review at OMBÂ (and official details are not provided, not even to Members of Congress who request it),Â Ms. Furchtgott-Roth conveniently writes an op-ed inÂ The New York Sun, defending the plan.
“It’s is good newsÂ that theÂ Labor Department is proposing new rules for evaluating different health risks.Â …Some OSHA rules have more stringent standards than do American trading partners, with the result that businesses have an incentive to move production offshore.”
Let the race to the bottom begin.Â Â Plus, I’d like to see the empirical data to support her assertion thatÂ worker safety regulations specifically drive companies oversees.Â
In her op-ed New Rule for OSHAÂ Furchtgott-Roth displays complete ignorance on how OSHA and MSHA assess health risks.Â She asserts:
“That’s why it’s important to use real epidemiological data on job-related illness and accidents to measure true dangers to workers.”
What does she think they use now?Â Fake epidemiology?Â Besides, it’s not like OSHA and MSHA are churning out rulesÂ to protect workers from health hazard.Â In the last 10 years, OSHA issued one health standard (on hexavalent chromium) and MSHA issued its first ever in 2001 (on diesel particulate matter).Â Â
The former chief economistÂ doesn’t even get simple facts correct in her op-ed.Â She describes the former head of OMB’s OIRA, John Graham, as a “Harvard Professor.”Â Â Well, he hasn’t been atÂ Harvard School of Public Health since 2001, and is currently the Dean of the Pardee Rand Graduate School.Â Readers of The New York Sun might not care about getting facts correct, but we do, especially from individuals who are paid to be experts on a topic.Â Obviously, attention to detail is not Ms. Furchtgott-Roth’s forte.Â In the original version of her op-ed, she wrote:
“When the government make regulations, it need solid evidence that what is proposed will in fact protect workers.”
Her errors go on:
“OSHA has long had a problem with transparency in how it conducts risk assessment to determine safe occupational exposure levels to hazardous chemicals for workers.”
Huh?Â What could be more transparent than having weeks upon weeks of public hearings in which industry and worker representatives can grillÂ OSHA health scientists exactly about the Agency’s risk assessment, including the epidemiological studies used to support it?Â
Ms. Furchtgott-Roth and other critics of health protective standards for workers likeÂ to hide behind terms like “transparency” and “sound science.”Â But we know, that not what this is really about.Â Let’s be blunt: It’s a debate about values.Â How much should be spent to protectÂ workers’ health.Â And if an OSHA or MSHA risk assessment says that the population-basedÂ risk of losing lung function, or developing chronic immunological problems, or developing cancer is small, thanÂ Joe Employer shouldn’t have to bear the cost ofÂ preventing those conditions.Â
Do value judgments and ethics go hand-in-hand?Â It struck me as strange that Ms. Deborah Miser, the political appointee responsible for this risk assessment proposal, was a former White House Ethics Advisor.Â The American Heritage dictionary defines “ethics” as
“that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.”
Hmmm….Â I guess it is safe to assume that Ms. Miser didn’t really have any special expertise to be an ethics advisor, just like she doesn’t have any special training on risk assessment.Â Rather than getting all caught up in what the risk assessment plan is, why don’t we explore the “ethics” or at least the “waste, fraud and abuse” issues related to this project.
Why didÂ Secretary Chao and her political appointees spendÂ taxpayer money to hire a contractor to put togetherÂ a risk assessment rule, whenÂ there are governmentÂ experts in risk assessmentÂ in theirÂ own building and across theÂ street at NIOSH and EPA?
Why was the contract awarded to the former DOL chief economist when her firm has NO health risk asssessment expertise?
Why is DOL spending resources on this new initiative, when it has projects in the pipeline that have been languishingÂ for 7 1/2 years?Â For example, what happened to DOL’s promise to have a proposed ruleÂ to protect workers from the food-flavoring agency diacetyl ready in January 2008 for small-business review?
And then there’s the larger question about this administration: How many rules will it bend or break in order to erect more regulatory hurdles — designed to forestall health and safety regulations even after a new president takes over — before the clock runs in January 2009?
Celeste Monforton, MPH worked at OSHA and MSHA from 1991-2001.Â While at OSHA she was involved in DOL’s efforts in 1994-1995 to hold off alleged “reforms” to the risk assessment process which were making their way through House and Senate Committees.Â Bad ideas never die.Â Â