When OSHA got Bush-ified

WHEN OSHA GOT BUSH-IFIED…. The Bush gang? Ignoring the public’s interests, politicizing a key federal agency, and advancing corporate interests above all else? You don’t say.

In early 2001, an epidemiologist at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration sought to publish a special bulletin warning dental technicians that they could be exposed to dangerous beryllium alloys while grinding fillings. Health studies showed that even a single day’s exposure at the agency’s permitted level could lead to incurable lung disease.

After the bulletin was drafted, political appointees at the agency gave a copy to a lobbying firm hired by the country’s principal beryllium manufacturer, according to internal OSHA documents. The epidemiologist, Peter Infante, incorporated what he considered reasonable changes requested by the company and won approval from key directorates, but he bristled when the private firm complained again.

“In my 24 years at the Agency, I have never experienced such indecision and delay,” Infante wrote in an e-mail to the agency’s director of standards in March 2002. Eventually, top OSHA officials decided, over what Infante described in an e-mail to his boss as opposition from “the entire OSHA staff working on beryllium issues,” to publish the bulletin with a footnote challenging a key recommendation the firm opposed.

Current and former career officials at OSHA say that such sagas were a recurrent feature during the Bush administration, as political appointees ordered the withdrawal of dozens of workplace health regulations, slow-rolled others, and altered the reach of its warnings and rules in response to industry pressure.

In all, under Bush, 86% fewer rules were found economically significant as compared to a similar period during the Clinton years.

By all appearances, this administration barely wants OSHA to even exist, so I suppose it stands to reason that Bush political appointees would gut the agency and turn to lobbyists to help guide OSHA’s decision making. Indeed, it’s hard to count just how many regulatory agencies have, under this president, effectively been run by the business interests it was supposed to be regulating.

Just another addition to the long list of government departments that Obama is going to have to fix.

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