Report: Bush Administration Dismantles Health and Safety Protections

A cadre of former senior governmental officials, headed by former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, accused the Bush administration of an unprecedented "broad and deep" attack on long-standing federal policies designed to protect the environment and workplace safety.

The May 25th event in Washington, D.C., marked the release of a report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and OMB Watch titled "Special Interest Takeover: The Bush Administration and the Dismantling of Public Safeguards." The 145-page document purports to document the ways in which corporate interests are trumping the common good through weakened regulations, curtailed enforcement, and the distortion of scientific findings.

"The administration is littered with ex-lobbyists who are now writing the rules to benefit their former special-interest employers," said John Podesta, president of CAP, which describes itself as "a nonpartisan research and educational institute."

According to Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, the report makes five points, accusing the Bush administration of:

  • Rolling back existing EPA, OSHA and other federal safety and health protections;
  • Failing to promulgate new regulations;
  • Allowing political and ideological factors to distort scientific research;
  • Relaxed enforcement of federal regulations;
  • Undermining the government's accountability by weakening the public's right to know about federal actions.

Browner identified the last point, the alleged failure to honor the public's right to know as "the worst thing in the past three and half years." She also singled out the weakening of mercury rules as an especially egregious decision that will "cause generations of children to suffer."

Later, a panel of former senior officials who once worked at EPA, OSHA, the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the National Park Service explained in detail how, in their experience, political appointees were destroying the federal government's capacity to protect the health and safety of workers and the public from corporate interests.

Peter Infante, former director of OSHA's office of health standards, said that most OSHA employees with the qualifications to develop health standards had left the agency and have not been replaced, while the few who remain have been reassigned. As a result, the agency lacks the capacity to develop regulations, even if it wanted to.

"They're not interested in protecting workers, they're protecting industry, so that's why I left," said Infante, who quit the agency in 2002.

A reporter asked whether it was not inevitable to have tensions between political appointees and career federal officials, and how the current administration differs from the previous pro-business Republican administrations of President Ronald Reagan, and the first President Bush.

"At least then you could argue," replied Infante. "Now they've already made up their mind."

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