Bush Labor Veteran Quietly Assumes Acting Solicitor Post

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By Ben Penn

The Trump administration quietly installed Nicholas Geale, a veteran of former President George W. Bush’s Labor Department, as acting solicitor Feb. 16, sources tell Bloomberg BNA.

Geale becomes the agency’s top political attorney. He assumes the job at a critical time, with several 2016 DOL regulations now facing litigation.

Several sources familiar with the process referred to Geale as the acting solicitor. DOL spokeswoman Jillian Rogers told Bloomberg BNA that Geale is the “deputy solicitor and acting solicitor.”

The department’s crew of temporary political leaders, known as the “beachhead team,” selected Geale for the job with the knowledge that a Senate-confirmed solicitor is likely months away amid delays in confirming a labor secretary. Geale joins the DOL directly from the National Mediation Board, where he was appointed as a Republican member by President Barack Obama in 2012.

Several sources familiar with the administration’s plans said Geale would’ve been Andrew Puzder’s solicitor nominee, before Puzder withdrew his labor secretary nomination Feb. 15. It’s unclear if President Donald Trump’s new labor secretary nominee R. Alexander Acosta, might seek to retain Geale.

If Geale is to be chosen for the top solicitor job, he would need to avoid controversy when serving in a temporary capacity, or else risk complicating his confirmation.

The acting leader of the solicitor’s office could be involved in a handful of politically divisive topics. Regulations issued under Obama’s DOL, such as the overtime, fiduciary, “persuader” and Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rules, are all at various stages of litigation.

Perhaps the most contentious issue involves the regulation to expand workers’ access to overtime pay, which a judge temporarily blocked in November. The Justice Department appealed the ruling before Trump took office, but later asked for and was granted an extension to file its brief to reconsider the administration’s position.

Geale an Experienced GOP Labor Hand

Geale returns to the DOL solicitor’s office after a stint as an adviser to the solicitor from 2006-2007. He then was counselor to the deputy labor secretary from 2007-2009.

From 2011-2012, he was director of oversight and investigations for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s Republican office.

“It is important to continue to select key political people to implement the President’s agenda and supervise career personnel who, otherwise lacking new direction, may just continue to function as if no election took place,” Michael Lotito, co-chair of Littler Mendelson’s Workplace Policy Institute, told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail.

Geale was an associate at Thelen Reid & Priest LLP from 2000-2004. He graduated from Georgetown University Law Center.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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