Trump Turns to Familiar DOL Face for Deputy Labor Secretary

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By Ben Penn

The White House’s intent to nominate GOP Labor Department veteran Patrick Pizzella as deputy labor secretary sets up the homecoming of an experienced government official to an agency in need of operational support.

Pizzella, currently the acting chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, was confirmed by the Senate in 2001 as assistant secretary of labor for administration and management. He helmed the office—called OASAM—for nearly all eight years of the George W. Bush presidency. Pizzella’s long government service résumé makes him a common-sense selection for the DOL’s number two overall position. However, his return wouldn’t be welcomed by all of the agency’s workforce, according to the DOL’s former employee union leader.

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta doesn’t have a single Senate-confirmed political official by his side, making Pizzella’s arrival potentially crucial. As deputy labor secretary, the department’s chief operations officer, Pizzella would be expected to deliver vital guidance for a Trump administration DOL that’s working to offset a late start in addressing budgetary, organizational, and policy decisions.

“I think he’s a great pick because his background at OASAM means that he knows pretty much every inch of the department,” Glenn Spencer, who worked closely with Pizzella for about six years under then-Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, told Bloomberg BNA. “OASAM is involved with budgeting, they deal with” the DOL employee union, “and they’re involved with the department’s IT system.” Spencer is now vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative.

But Pizzella’s posture toward the agency’s workforce during the Bush administration could reignite old issues upon his return to the DOL. Dennis DeMay, who retired this year as president of the union representing nearly 8,000 DOL employees away from Washington, said he didn’t know Pizzella well but recalled him taking a hard-line pro-management stance during collective bargaining negotiations. Pizzella didn’t sit at the bargaining table, but as head of OASAM, he oversaw the process for contract negotiations in 2006, an agreement DeMay said probably included the most union givebacks out of his five decades of experience.

“People would probably not be doing handstands because he’s coming back,” DeMay, who said he recently discussed Pizzella’s potential return with DOL senior career officials, told Bloomberg BNA. “He’s never been known as a union-friendly person.”

Top Challenges

Acosta wasn’t sworn in until late April, after President Donald Trump’s first pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, withdrew amid controversy. In the meantime, critical policy decisions, such as enforcement strategies and regulatory actions, remain unresolved.

But perhaps the most pressing issue for the next deputy secretary will be the agency’s budget. The White House requested a 20 percent cut in DOL spending for fiscal year 2018. Even though Congress is unlikely to approve a reduction of that magnitude, Pizzella will probably need to make tough decisions on how the agency must try to do more with less.

“How and where those cuts will be implemented will fall squarely on how the deputy secretary implements them,” Christopher Lu, deputy labor secretary for most of President Barack Obama’s second term, told Bloomberg BNA. “Whether those cuts will entail” job reductions “is on the deputy secretary as well. That’s the first and most important thing he will deal with.” Lu is now a senior fellow at the University of Virginia Miller Center.

Pizzella would also manage implementation of the Trump administration’s directive to reorganize federal agency structures. At the DOL, this includes a controversial proposal to merge the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Other operational challenges Pizzella would inherit include searching for a new DOL headquarters, upgrading information technology, and ensuring employee engagement, Lu added.

Senate Calendar Unclear

Once Pizzella is formally nominated, the Senate labor committee can hold a hearing. But the crowded Senate calendar and a looming August recess will make it difficult for the full Senate to consider Pizzella and vote on whether to confirm him until the fall.

Pizzella’s previous Senate confirmations appear to weigh in his favor for a smooth process this go-around. Obama nominated him in 2013 to occupy the sole Republican seat on the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which oversees federal sector labor-management relations.

But amid the heated political climate that awaits him this year, with Democrats using confirmation hearings to press nominees on Trump’s behavior, Pizzella could face tough questions. For instance, he may be asked about his nearly five years in the 1990s as Jack Abramoff’s lobbying partner at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds. Abramoff, his colleagues, and other associates were convicted of lobbying fraud, but Pizzella escaped charges.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to hold up confirmation,” the Chamber’s Spencer said. “He’s been confirmed by the Senate before. I would hope they would move expeditiously on it.”

The business community has been growing impatient with the White House delays in approving DOL personnel. Employers and GOP lawmakers see the arrival of political officials as vital to rolling back the Obama labor agenda, including a regulation designed to expand overtime pay access to millions of workers.

Pizzella has a bachelor’s in business from the University of South Carolina, according to a White House press release.

In addition to the FLRA and the DOL, he’s worked at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the U.S. General Services Administration.

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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