Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., along with Chairmen James Jeffords, R-Vt., Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., and Michael Enzi, R-Wy., wrote to the Department of Labor (DOL) criticizing the agency''s delay of an investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO) of OSHA''s use of paid expert witnesses in the proposed ergonomics rulemaking.
According to the Senators, OSHA and the DOL Solicitor''s Office withheld certain essential documents from GAO investigators.
"Our citizens have a right to know how their money is being spent," said Thompson. "As the eyes and ears of Congress, GAO has been conducting an objective investigation of the apparent payment and coaching of witnesses in the ergonomics rulemaking."
Thompson went on to say that DOL allowed GAO investigators to operate for months under the misimpression that they had all pertinent information.
"The investigators should have had access to these documents much earlier. Before we can consider this matter resolved, we need to know whether DOL is acting in good faith," said Thompson.
Enzi, chairman of the Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training, reiterated Thompson''s thoughts saying he was disappointed by OSHA''s behavior.
"In early July, I asked for the full body of information on this issue, and OSHA has continually kept the information under wraps," said Enzi. "OSHA''s efforts to keep this information hidden would be better spent making the workplace safer. The public needs to have access to the facts on the ergonomics rule and we will make sure they get it."
Bond, chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business, added, "OSHA''s tactic of hiding and omitting data requested by Congress and GAO is another blow to the agency''s credibility on ergonomics. Apparently, OSHA has no interest in giving a fair hearing to the concerns raised by Congress and no interest in playing by the rules when it comes to implementing an ergonomics regulation."
GAO investigators were preparing to close out their investigation when the omission of the documents was disclosed.
DOL has only recently granted GAO access to the documents.
The Senators'' original request to GAO was triggered by findings of Congressman David McIntosh''s, R-Ind., ongoing investigation of OSHA''s use of contractors in the ergonomics rulemaking, which revealed that about 70 contractors have been paid nearly $2 million to work on the proposal.
In a July 5 letter to Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, McIntosh said several contractors were directed by DOL not to hand over documents on ergonomics rulemaking the congressman had requested.
The day after McIntosh obtained a subpoena, most of the material was released to him.
OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress sent a letter to the congressman that attempted to rebut the charge that it was wrong to use paid expert witnesses.
"As a general matter, OSHA''s use of expert witnesses and consultants is expressly authorized by Congress and has been approved by the courts," wrote Jeffress. The practice has been recognized by the GAO and is consistent with OSHA''s procedures under four different Presidents, he added.
by Virginia Sutcliffe