Romney Win Would Allow Renewed Emphasis On Compliance Aid, Former OSHA Heads Say

By Stephen Lee  

Two recent Republican heads of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are eyeing a Mitt Romney administration as a chance to emphasize compliance assistance programs not only at OSHA, but throughout the federal government.

Ed Foulke, who headed OSHA under the George W. Bush administration from 2006 to 2008, told BNA Sept. 14 he envisioned a White House office of compliance assistance and corporate sustainability, “to work with every agency in government and help companies comply with whatever they're responsible for.”

Such an office would help employers comply not only with OSHA rules but also with, for example, the Labor Department's wage and hour rules and the Environmental Protection Agency's various regulations, Foulke said.

“Every federal department would have the responsibility of saying, 'Here's what we're doing,' and they'll report to the White House on how to help employers comply with the rules,” Foulke said. “Not with the enforcement hammer.”

Foulke also said he may prepare a white paper on the topic for the Romney administration.

Foulke, Henshaw Seek Centralized Office.

Similarly, John Henshaw, who served as OSHA administrator under Bush from 2001 to 2004, said he supported the idea of a central federal office to “help small businesses navigate this morass of government regulations.”

One problem employers face with compliance assistance programs is that “there's all sorts of agencies out there with all sorts of compliance assistance, OSHA being one of them,” Henshaw told BNA Sept. 28. “And the small business has to know enough to go to each agency's compliance assistance department to get help. A one-stop shop, perhaps under the umbrella of the Small Business Administration, might be some way to deliver comprehensive service.”

Moreover, centralized compliance assistance is likely to be more balanced and sensible, according to Henshaw.

“If you go to OSHA, their compliance assistance is focused on OSHA,” Henshaw said. As a result, a small business seeking compliance assistance may get more detailed information than it needs about OSHA regulations. A better way to serve small businesses, he said, would be an approach that would “deliver a balanced perspective of all regulations, pertaining to that business, in a balanced way.”

Doing so is especially crucial in the current economic climate, because compliance programs can spur economic growth, both Foulke and Henshaw said.

But Rena Steinzor, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, told BNA Oct. 2 she did not see the need for a centralized office because businesses already have access to private law firms, engineering firms, and technical consulting firms that can provide such services.

“When people say things like this, I always think, I don't understand what the agenda is other than to drain very scarce government resources,” Steinzor said. “Because the truth is that OSHA is cut to the bone and has barely enough people to keep up with its most important role as the cop on the beat. It's like saying the policemen in a urban neighborhood should be helping kids stay off the street after school. That's not their job. And we have separate programs for that.”

Henshaw Denies Democratic Claims.

Some Democratic lawmakers and labor representatives have denounced OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program as simply a means for companies to dodge OSHA inspections.

But Henshaw disputed those claims, calling them a “complete fabrication by people who don't like taking any pressure off what they perceive are adversaries.”

Only employers with low injury rates are allowed in the VPP program to begin with, Henshaw said, and VPP participants are not exempt from inspections in cases of fatalities or complaints.

By Stephen Lee