WASHINGTON, D.C. | November 17, 2009
Citing concerns that the role of scientific evidence may be diminished in vital workplace safety decisions, Rep. John Kline (R-MN) today urged Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate to hold a public hearing on the nomination of Professor David Michaels to serve as Assistant Secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration before advancing him to a vote by the full Senate for the post.
Kline, the top Republican on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, underscored the critical role of OSHA as an impartial, science-based authority on workplace health and safety and warned that a failure to fully vet the individual responsible for the office could have widespread ramifications for workers and employers alike. A Senate committee vote on Professor Michaels’ nomination could come as early as this week despite the fact that Democrats have not held a hearing on his appointment.
“The individual charged with overseeing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration bears a tremendous responsibility to work with employers to ensure worker safety and health. Sound, scientifically based evidence must be the foundation upon which OSHA operates. Without a commitment to these principles, the agency risks becoming a punitive, politically driven operation that will lose credibility with workers and employers,” said Kline.
“Serious questions have been raised about Professor Michaels’ commitment to a reliance on scientific evidence – regardless of its source. It is imperative that the Senate conduct a hearing to explore his views and their potential consequences for workplace safety regulation and enforcement,” Kline continued.
In a 2008 article, Professor Michaels suggested the notion that “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” ought to be considered a lesson for policymakers. Given that policymakers are widely viewed as having a duty to rely on, and indeed demand evidence before imposing policy, this statement indicates a troubling openness to the imposition of policy based on unproven theory. Moreover, Professor Michaels writes “[t]he interpretation of scientific data by those with financial incentives must be discounted,” a statement that directly contradicts the necessity that OSHA’s head consider the input of stakeholders.
“Previous nominees to lead this important agency have been thoroughly vetted through an open hearing process. The idea that any nominee to this post would escape the scrutiny of a hearing is troubling,” said Kline. “Particularly in the case of a nominee whose rejection of widely accepted scientific and evidence-based principles falls so far outside the mainstream, the responsible course of action is to hold a hearing before his appointment can proceed.”
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