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Witnesses Discuss OSHA’s Executive Overreach

The Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), today held a hearing entitled, “OSHA’s Regulatory Agenda: Changing Long-Standing Policies Outside the Public Rulemaking Process.” During the hearing, members discussed instances in which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has significantly altered standards outside the formal regulatory process.

In his opening remarks, Rep. Walberg said, “President Obama promised in his State of the Union address to go around Congress when necessary to advance his own agenda. The president’s remarks fit a pattern we’re all too familiar with under this administration… Today we will discuss instances of this executive overreach within the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”

Rep. Walberg described important rules governing the regulatory process, such as soliciting public feedback. “These legal guidelines are in place to protect the public against excessive regulations, provide important transparency over the work of federal agencies, and ensure the right policies are in place,” said Rep. Walberg. “Assistant Secretary David Michaels has openly expressed his frustration with the rules he must follow before imposing new regulations on workplaces. Instead, he has promised to find creative solutions to adopt his policy priorities, and that is precisely what the agency is now doing.”

Bradford Hammock, a former employee with the Department of Labor’s Office of the Solicitor, outlined the practical applications of these creative solutions. “OSHA has decided to push out new policies and in some cases new requirements without bothering to follow the requirements of rulemaking or involving those who would be affected by these changes,” said Mr. Hammock. “We call these actions ‘subregulatory’ because they exist at a lower level in the hierarchy of activities, but still have significant impacts. Subregulatory actions are substantive changes without transparency, input from affected parties, or accountability.”

To illustrate the far-reaching consequences of these significant actions, witnesses discussed how OSHA’s executive overreach has:
  • Provided union bosses a Trojan horse into nonunion workplaces. “Without any prior public notice, OSHA for the first time issued a Letter of Interpretation (LOI) declaring that non-union employers may be compelled to allow outside union agents and/or community representatives to accompany OSHA inspectors onto the employers’ premises, without any showing that the union or community organizer represents a majority of the employer’s employees… OSHA is injecting itself into labor management disputes and casting doubt on its status as a neutral enforcer of the law.” – Maury Baskin, testifying on behalf of the National Association of Manufacturers and Associated Builders and Contractors 

  • Unilaterally extended OSHA jurisdiction over family farms. “Congress has exempted small farming operations from OSHA enforcement actions... Despite this clear direction from Congress, OSHA has drafted investigator guidance, conducted investigations and penalized farming operations in complete disregard of a law that has been on the books for nearly four decades… rather than working cooperatively with industry, OSHA apparently reached the conclusion that it was preferable to penalize small farmers through enforcement.” – Scott VanderWal, President, South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation

“For any administration this would be a troubling pattern,” continued Mr. Hammock. “For an administration that came into office promising to be the most transparent, this is both troubling and hypocritical. These actions undermine the credibility of the agency and the respect it should have, thus interfering with the agency’s mission of working to improve workplace safety.”

“We all want to ensure America’s workers are employed in safe and healthy workplaces,” Rep. Walberg concluded. “Unfortunately, rewriting the law through executive fiat and circumventing the public rulemaking process undermines this goal, creating confusion and uncertainty for workers and job creators. I strongly urge the administration to reverse course.”

To learn more about today’s hearing, or to watch an archived webcast, visit  


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