Speculation Swirls Around Who Might Lead OSHA Under Trump

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By Stephen Lee

Nov. 21 — President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is likely to be either the head of safety at a large corporation or an industry lawyer with state plan experience, sources tell Bloomberg BNA.

Among the names that have surfaced as possible choices are:

  •  James Thornton, safety director at shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries;
  •  Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce;
  •  Gabe Sierra, OSHA chief of staff under President George W. Bush;
  •  Scott Mugno, vice president of safety, sustainability and vehicle maintenance at FedEx Ground;
  •  Michael Belcher, vice president of safety and risk at DS Waters and outgoing president of the American Society of Safety Engineers;
  •  Ken Flechler, chief administrative officer at energy provider Pike Electric; and
  •  Rixio Medina, former longtime safety director at CITGO Petroleum.
Thornton, former president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, is well known at OSHA and among safety professionals.

Freedman, point man at the nation’s biggest business lobby, is arguably the most prominent industry voice on safety and health.

Sierra is now a safety and health consultant in Virginia. When asked about his interest in the job, he told Bloomberg BNA, “It would be an honor to serve in the Trump administration.”

Mugno, Belcher, Flechler and Medina all bring corporate experience to the job.

“These guys understand how safety people can get the job done in a business environment, no matter the resources,” said Dave Heidorn, manager of government affairs and policy at the American Society of Safety Engineers.

Sources stressed that none of those names are in any way a sure thing, however, and that the next OSHA chief could be a complete surprise.

No Inevitable Candidate

Republicans don’t have a candidate who would be a natural choice, unlike Peg Seminario, safety and health director at the AFL-CIO, who would have been for the Democrats.

“It’s hard to find someone who has safety experience and a political background as well,” Ed Foulke, the last Republican to lead OSHA, told Bloomberg BNA.

Another complication with hiring a corporate lawyer is that the OSHA job may represent a pay cut, Foulke said. As of January 2016, the OSHA chief earns $160,300, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

Still another possibility is that Trump’s administration may be so hostile toward OSHA’s mission that it won’t take the nomination seriously.

“Hopefully, someone will have enough sense to at least appoint an occupational safety and health professional,” Heidorn said. “It’s not just enforcement. It’s also building relationships and providing information.”

Choice Not Imminent

Trump’s Department of Labor isn’t likely to announce its nominee until the summer of 2017, John Newquist, a longtime former OSHA regional administrator, told Bloomberg BNA.

Until then, Dorothy Dougherty, OSHA’s current non-political deputy assistant secretary, is in line lead the agency.

Other possibilities for the interim job include Robert Kulick, Ken Atha and Greg Baxter, who now head OSHA’s regional offices in New York, Chicago and Denver, respectively, according to Newquist.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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