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March 9, 2015 by Celeste Monforton

Congress squeezes Obama's reg czar about lack of transparency

This blog is cross-posted from the Pump Handle. 

It’s a rare thing on Capitol Hill when a member of the Administration is on the hot seat from both sides of the aisle. But that’s what happened on Tuesday when President Obama’s regulatory czar, Howard Shelanski, JD, PhD, testified at a joint hearing of two subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform.

The Republican Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Ranking Member Gerry Connolly (D-VA)and other subcommittee members, peppered him with questions about OIRA’s lack of transparency in numerous arenas. Their motivations were different, but they were equally tough in their questioning. Republicans don’t think OIRA is doing enough to reign in regulatory agencies, while Democrats want OIRA to complement, not impede, agencies’ work.

I could relate to Chairman Meadows when he pressed Shelanski about releasing documents related to OIRA’s review of an agency regulation. That’s a topic that is close to my heart as I’ve filed numerous FOIA requests—during both Democratic and Republican Administrations—to obtain such records.

Meadows read from Executive Order 12866 (EO) which directs OIRA’s activities.

OIRA shall make available to the public all …

June 26, 2014 by Celeste Monforton
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Cross-posted from The Pump Handle.

Luis Castaneda Gomez, 34 and Jesus Martinez Benitez, 32 were asphyxiated in June 2011 when they were doing repairs inside a manhole. Their employer, Triangle Grading and Paving, was hired by the City of Durham, NC to make water line repairs. The firm had a history of violating worker safety regulations. Worse yet, it was not the first time an employee of Triangle Grading was killed on-the-job.

Durham, like most municipalities, did not have effective policies in place to guard against giving business to safety scofflaws. But that changed in Durham when it adopted a policy in 2012 requiring all bidders to provide information on their safety performance.

This example and many others are described in Winning Safer Workplaces: A Manual for State and Local Policy Reform. Liz Borkowski and I wrote the guide, along with the Center for Progressive Reform’s …

Dec. 19, 2013 by Celeste Monforton
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Many Senate Democrats try to paint themselves as defenders of working people. They rail against their colleagues who are “in the pockets of corporations and the rich.”  But what they say, and what they do are two different things. This time, seven Democratic Senators are ready to screw poultry workers to please the owners of the poultry companies.

We’ve been writing for nearly two years on the USDA’s plan to “modernize poultry inspection” (e.g., hereherehere, here). It’s a plan that will give Tyson, Perdue, Pilgrims’ Pride and other poultry producers an additional $250 million a year in revenue. It will allow USDA to eliminate 800 inspectors, and it won’t improve, and could make worse, food safety. To “sell” poultry companies on the plan, USDA will allow them to increase line speeds up to 175 birds per minute.

The industry and …

Oct. 21, 2013 by Celeste Monforton
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“Es ridículo,” was the reaction of a poultry plant worker when he heard of the USDA’s proposal to “modernize” poultry slaughter. The agency’s January 2012 proposal (77 Fed Reg 4408) would allow companies to increase assembly line speeds from about 90 to 175 birds per minute, and remove most USDA inspectors from the poultry processing line.

The Obama Administration should have heard the loud and clear opposition from civil rights, food safety, public health and the workers’ safety communities to the USDA’s proposal.  When the public comment period closed in May 2012, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Nebraska Appleseed, the American Public Health Association and other groups were on record urging the Administration to withdraw the proposed rule.  The National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the U.S., put it bluntly: 

“this proposed rule runs counter to …

Aug. 13, 2013 by Celeste Monforton
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More than 400 inspectors with the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) worked, on average, more than 120 hours each two-week pay period.    Those were the findings of the agency’s Inspector General in an report issued late last month.  Their investigation covered FY 2012, and included field work conducted from November 2012 through February 2013.

FSIS inspectors are assigned to more than 6,000 meat, poultry and egg processing plants in the U.S.  They are responsible for ensuring that the product sold by companies to consumers is safe and wholesome.  These firms process tens of billions of red meat and poultry annually.  With some USDA inspectors working many hours of overtime—not just a couple hours per week, but an average of 20 extra hours each week—can their senses stay sharp and can they do their jobs effectively?

The IG mentioned that overworked …

Aug. 6, 2013 by Celeste Monforton
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Finally!  After far too much hullabaloo about the cost of regulations, there was a U.S. Senate hearing today on why public health regulations are important, and how delays by Congress and the Administration have serious negative consequences for people’s lives.  Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called the hearing entitled “Justice Delayed: The Human Cost of Regulatory Paralysis,” the first one conducted by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s newly created Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights and Agency Action.  The witnesses included a parent-turned advocate for automobile safety, AFL-CIO director of safety and health Peg Seminario, and law professor Rena Steinzor of the Center for Progressive Reform.

Steinzor kicked off her testimony with a short litany of regulatory successes: ”One does not need to look far to see how essential regulations are.  Just ask anyone whose life was saved by a seat belt, whose children escaped brain damage …

Aug. 12, 2011 by Celeste Monforton
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Cross-posted from The Pump Handle.

Tyler Zander, 17 and Bryce Gannon, 17 were working together on Thursday, August 4 at the Zaloudek Grain Co. in Kremlin, Oklahoma. They were operating a large floor grain aguer when something went terribly wrong. Oklahoma's News9.com reports that Bryce Gannon's legs became trapped in the auger, Tyler Zander went to his friend's aid and his legs also were pulled into the heavy machinery. Emergency rescue personnel had to cut apart the 12-inch metal auger in order to free the young men. They were flown 100 miles to Oklahoma City for surgery and they remain hospitalized.

The fatality rate for young workers performing hazardous tasks----like working with a grain auger-----is two times the fatality rate for all U.S. workers. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), administered by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour …

April 13, 2011 by Celeste Monforton
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Cross-posted from The Pump Handle.

President Obama received an award last week for his efforts to improve openness in federal agencies. Jon Stewart poked fun at it (see clip) and I actually thought it might have been an April Fool's joke because of what I'd learned earlier in the week.

The President's own Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has hosted two meetings with industry representatives who are opposed to an OSHA regulation on crystalline silica, but OIRA fails to disclose these meetings on its website (screenshot 4/11/11.) This is the second time in as many occasions that this OMB office has failed the transparency test when it comes to extra-curricular meetings on OSHA rules. OIRA did the same thing last summer on OSHA's proposed minor change to its injury recording log. Others have identified even more serious infractions by …

Feb. 8, 2011 by Celeste Monforton
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Cross-posted from The Pump Handle.

I was already tired of President Obama repeating the Republican's rhetoric about big, bad regulations, how they stifle job creation, put an unnecessary burden on businesses, and make our economy less competitive. He did so last month in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and in his State of the Union address. But yesterday, the White House went too far.

In advance of the President's speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the chief of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) threw two OSHA initiatives under the bus. Right after mentioning President Obama's January 18 directive that agencies reduce regulatory burdens on small businesses, the OIRA chief boasted that they were already making great progress toward that goal. He offered four examples, and two of the four----2 of the 4---involved initiatives to …

Oct. 14, 2010 by Celeste Monforton
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Cross-posted from The Pump Handle.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and MSHA asst. secretary Joe Main are proposing new rules to protect U.S. coal mine workers from developing illnesses related to exposure to respirable coal mine dust. The most commonly known adverse health effect is black lung disease, but exposure is also associated with excess risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, progressive massive fibrosis, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. The proposal, scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Oct 19,* takes a comprehensive approach to the problem. I've not had a chance to read carefully the entire lengthy document, but I see provisions to reduce the permissible exposure limit for respirable coal dust from 2.0 mg/m3 to 1.0 mg/m3 (phased-in over 2 years), change the way miners' exposure to coal dust is measured from an average over five shifts to a …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
March 9, 2015

Congress squeezes Obama's reg czar about lack of transparency

June 26, 2014

States and localities are where it's at, opportunities to win safer workplaces

Dec. 19, 2013

Democratic Senators eager to screw African-American and Hispanic poultry workers

Oct. 21, 2013

USDA to poultry plant workers: no promise we'll address line speed hazards

Aug. 13, 2013

Do you want overworked inspectors in charge of your meat's safety?

Aug. 6, 2013

Pushing back against anti-regulatory forces, safety and environmental protections long overdue

Aug. 12, 2011

Legs of Two 17-Year-Olds Severed in Grain Auger, White House Sits on Young Worker Safety Rule