Foulke, who chaired the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) from 1990 to 1994, is a partner and OSHA practitioner with Jackson Lewis, LLP in Greenville, S. C., a national law firm that specializes in the defense of management in cases involving labor and employment law.
The selection of Foulke, who must win Senate confirmation before he can assume the top job at OSHA, drew generally positive reactions from members of the safety and health community, although some expressed concerns about the nominee's background.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate's OSHA oversight subcommittee, praised President Bush's decision and promised to work with his colleagues, "to assure expedient confirmation."
A spokesman for the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, promised to question Foulke, "on his commitment to vigorously enforcing the health and safety laws that American workers depend on for a safe workplace."
Foulke has served on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's (USCC) labor policy committee, and in this capacity he has testified before Congress in support of updating permissible exposure limits and other policy issues.
"I know Ed well and I think he'll do a fine job at OSHA," commented Randel Johnson, USCC's vice president for labor, immigration, and employee benefits. "To do that job well you must have an understanding of how OSHA works and how Washington works, otherwise the career people will eat you alive." Johnson explained that Foulke's experience at OSHRC taught him how the levers of power in Washington operate.
But other OSHA attorneys in private practice, who asked that their names not be used, worried the OSHA staff would not respect Foulke. "Ed is an honorable and dedicated person," commented one attorney.
"But career people will see him as a lawyer who represents business interests who got a political appointment, not as someone dedicated to advancing the OSHA mission."
Other OSHA stakeholders said privately that, "not having real-life safety and health experience is a problem."
Art Sapper, an attorney at McDermott, Will & Emery who has known Foulke for many years, disagreed. The nominee's strongest suit is his knowledge of the issues, according to Sapper. "You don't need to be a safety and health professional to know what the policy issues are and to decide them intelligently."
At least one person who worked under Foulke believes he was a superb manager.
Earl Ohman was general counsel at OSHRC when Foulke was its chairman. "He was my immediate boss," said Ohman. "As a manager, he was a pleasure to work with, a true gentleman. I can't imagine the people at OSHA would have any difficulty working with him."
Ohman, who is now retired, also praised Foulke's integrity. "Ed Foulke is a Republican, but I always found he was a good listener and a fair man. He always attempted to do what he thought was right."