Obama Critic to Lead Review of Labor Regulations for Trump

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By Ben Penn

The Labor Department is creating a White House-mandated office designed to reconsider government regulations, with an outspoken critic of Obama-era rules selected to oversee the project, a DOL official told Bloomberg BNA.

Nathan Mehrens, who has already held a variety of Trump administration labor roles, will run the DOL Regulatory Reform Office, created in compliance with President Donald Trump’s February executive order. Mehrens is also the DOL’s acting assistant secretary for policy, a position he has held since June that entails reviewing regulations before they are sent to the White House for approval. He was previously president of the conservative group Americans for Limited Government, where he was a watchdog of the labor movement.

The executive order tasks each government agency with appointing a regulatory reform officer and assembling a task force that reviews existing regulations and recommends certain rules for reversal or revision, depending on whether they’re considered to hurt job growth or deemed unnecessary. The DOL had not yet publicly announced its progress in complying with the order.

The DOL official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the regulatory reform office was first headed by a career DOL employee. Now “Mehrens is going to be overseeing that, and we are in the process of developing that program,” the official said.

Further details on the DOL office are pending approval from the White House Office of Management and Budget, the official said.

The Mehrens development comes after House Democrats wrote to OMB leadership Aug. 7 to express “alarm concerning the lack of transparency” of regulatory reform task forces throughout the government. The lawmakers gave a deadline of Aug. 25 for the administration to provide a list of names of all task force members.

Anti-Regulatory History

In a Nov. 17 op-ed, Mehrens recommended that a handful of Obama DOL regulations and policies be removed under Trump because of the harm he said they impose on businesses. He included on his list the “persuader rule,” a regulation written by the Office of Labor-Management Standards that would have expanded disclosure requirements for employers using advisers to fight unionization.

The persuader rule is already going through the rescission process. Other regulations issued under the prior administration remain in effect, despite some trade groups’ calls to invalidate them. That includes a rule to expand overtime and minimum wage protections to home-care workers and a regulation requiring federal contractors to provide employees with paid sick leave.

Mehrens joined the agency’s beachhead team on Jan. 20. He was previously a member of Trump’s DOL landing team during the presidential transition and a political attorney at the department’s OLMS during the George W. Bush administration. Under Mehrens’ OLMS tenure, the office imposed more scrutiny on international unions, regularly conducting audits to ensure compliance with financial reporting requirements.

Mehrens has also written that some worker centers should be subjected to the same disclosure requirements as traditional unions.

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; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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