Dr. David Michaels, Ph.D., MPH, assistant secretary of Labor for occupational safety and health

HELP Committee Decides to Bypass Full Hearing for Potential OSHA Chief

Senators on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee overseeing the nomination of epidemiologist David Michaels, Ph.D., as OSHA's next assistant secretary have decided to go with a mostly written question-and-answer format rather than conduct a full hearing. And they won't be getting to it this week. That is the news today from the office of U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, HELP chairman.

Business groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the Coalition for Workplace Safety, and the Chamber of Commerce, among others, have been urging panel members to conduct a full-scale hearing on the nominee rather than send his appointment directly to the floor for a vote, but Harkin's office said today that is not going to happen.

Instead, according to Harkin's press secretary Bergen Kenny, "Any member of the committee can ask to meet with the nominee individually, and they can submit written questions, which is what happens most frequently, and then the nominee answers those written questions, and then they can ask follow-up questions to those if they so choose. Then, when we have the hearing, everybody's free to debate it . . . and then vote however they see fit."

As early as Oct. 21 Michaels was one of 11 nominations slated for consideration by the panel, but according to Kenny, written questions were submitted to the nominee too close to that date for him to adequately answer them and provide follow-up feedback. HELP members "didn't feel like they had the time to go through the process before our date," she said. Consequently, the committee's minority and majority staff have agreed to conduct the questions and answers in writing and then meet with the nominee individually if they choose, she said.

"If we had a hearing on every single nominee, nothing would ever get done," Kenny said. "We wouldn't be able to fill all the positions that need to be filled."

Kenny added that HELP would not be getting to Michaels' nomination this week. "We have two hearings already this week, and neither are for that," she said.

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