OSHA hired 28 contractors and paid each of them $10,000 to testify on ergonomics during the recently concluded informal public hearings on the proposed standard, according to information recently uncovered by Rep. David McIntosh, R-Ind.
Senate Republicans who want to hold up the ergonomics proposal have also seized on OSHA''s decision to hire outside help to summarize the many comments it is receiving on the rule.
In a letter to his colleagues calling for a one-year delay of the ergonomics standard, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., cited an ongoing McIntosh investigation that has revealed OSHA paid more than $1.75 million to at least 70 contractors to perform various tasks related to the ergonomics rule.
"OSHA is forging recklessly ahead with a standard that has many serious problems," Enzi wrote in his June 13 "dear colleague" letter.
An OSHA spokesperson defended the practice of paying expert witnesses to testify at informal public hearings, saying it is a routine part of the process. OSHA argues that paid contractors are also needed in this case, because the agency has been flooded with written comments about the ergonomics proposal, and outside help to summarize the comments is necessary to promulgate the rule on schedule.
"In virtually all of our rulemakings, we''ve paid expert witnesses," the spokesperson explained. For example, OSHA paid four witnesses to testify on the proposed tuberculosis rule. Two of these payments were more than $9,000.
Paying witnesses to testify on proposed regulations may be routine at OSHA, but it does not appear to be standard operating procedure at other federal agencies.
"That''s something we do not do," said a Department of Transportation (DOT) spokesperson.
Neil Eisner, DOT''s assistant general counsel for regulation and enforcement, said he has been at the agency for about 20 years and, in that time, has been involved in promulgating "at least hundreds" of rules.
"To my knowledge, we have never used paid witnesses for any kind of rulemaking," Eisner said.
The spokesperson explained that DOT does not often hold informal public hearings. When it does, it is interested in hearing from the public. "Paying experts would not get us what we need to know," he added.
A source at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it is not customary to pay experts for their rulemaking testimony, with the possible exception of reimbursement for travel expenses.
While Enzi''s revelations of payments to expert witnesses and outside contractors may be embarrassing to OSHA, it is not clear whether this will be enough to persuade Senate supporters of ergonomics to delay the rule for another year.
The House narrowly approved a rider to the 2001 appropriations bill for OSHA that would block the agency from spending money to promulgate the rule until October 2001.
Enzi is leading the effort to pass such a rider this year in the Senate, but he faces an uphill battle. An ergonomics-delaying amendment failed last year after a number of Senate Democrats threatened a filibuster.
by James L. Nash