White House transparency doesn’t apply to industry meetings on worker safety rules

The practice of posting a notice about meetings between regulated parties and OMB staff began during the GW Bush Administration, not a group known for transparency. Even that very secretive Administration saw the value in informing the public promptly of such meetings. The Obama Administration’s OIRA is now 0-2 when it comes to disclosure of meetings about OSHA rules. (Their performance may actually be even worse. For all I know they’ve had other meetings. We just don’t know to look for them on OIRA’s website.)

Serious health effects related to overexposure to respirable crystalline silica have plagued workers in certain industries for centuries. Individuals involved in mining, tunnelling, excavation and industrial processes that use silica sand or flour are potentially exposed and at risk of developing a host of diseases. Respirable crystalline silica is a known human carcinogen and exposure to it is also associated with a severe fibrotic respiratory disease, called silicosis, as well as kidney and autoimmune disorders. The current OSHA exposure limit is not protective of workers’ health.

In 1974, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended a much lower permissible exposure limit, but an outdated standard remains on the books at both OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). But many industry trade associations convince their members its better to spend money fighting worker health and safety regulations than investing in worker protections. One of their tactics is meeting with the OIRA staff who are assigned to review draft proposed and final rules. The OSHA silica rule hasn’t even been proposed yet, so the lobbyists are trying to influence its content (before it is shared publicly with the rest of us) or stop the proposal altogether.

These private meetings between OIRA and interested parties on draft or pending rules really bug me. They bothered me when I was a career employee at OSHA and MSHA, and they bother me now as an observer of the regulatory process. I call them extra-curricular meetings [not the best term and I'll take suggestions] because they circumvent the regular notice and comment rulemaking process. The Administrative Procedure Act guides the process that many federal agencies use to develop proposed and final rules. It is meant to be a process that applies to everyone equally; not one that gives special access to the politically-connected, economically privileged, or favored groups. Agencies like OSHA, develops a proposed rule and the public is given an opportunity–an equal opporunity—to provide comments. The comment period is open to everyone. This should be the one and only avenue for those who endorse or oppose a proposed rule to provide their perspective, expertise, or opinion to an Administration.

At OSHA, not only do they offer a lengthy comment period, but after a rule is proposed, OSHA holds many days—often weeks or months—-of public hearings at which individuals can testify about the proposal and even cross-examine other witnesses. With a process that is already robust and full of opportunity for public participation, why does the White House allow for these extra-curricular meetings??

There’s no reason for them, and there should be no place for them in a process that already provides ample time and methods for any interest group to participate.

As for the two extra-curricular meetings that Obama’s OIRA has already allowed, here’s what I’ve been able to find out:

*During the week of March 28, OIRA staff hosted representatives of the American Chemistry Council’s Crystalline Silica Panel.

*During the week of April 4, the guests of OIRA were brick industry officials.

I’ll be contacting OIRA today to ask if they plan to disclose information about these meetings on their website. I’ll also be asking for a copy of their written policy for posting information about these meetings. OIRA is fond of giving new mandates to federal agencies for written policies. It will be interesting to see if they have any of their own, and if so, will they disclose them.


The practice of posting a notice about meetings between regulated parties and OMB staff began during the GW Bush Administration, not a group known for transparency. Even that very secretive Administration saw the value in informing the public promptly of such meetings. The Obama Administration’s OIRA is now 0-2 when it comes to disclosure of meetings about OSHA rules. (Their performance may actually be even worse. For all I know they’ve had other meetings. We just don’t know to look for them on OIRA’s website.)

Serious health effects related to overexposure to respirable crystalline silica have plagued workers in certain industries for centuries. Individuals involved in mining, tunnelling, excavation and industrial processes that use silica sand or flour are potentially exposed and at risk of developing a host of diseases. Respirable crystalline silica is a known human carcinogen and exposure to it is also associated with a severe fibrotic respiratory disease, called silicosis, as well as kidney and autoimmune disorders. The current OSHA exposure limit is not protective of workers’ health.

In 1974, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended a much lower permissible exposure limit, but an outdated standard remains on the books at both OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). But many industry trade associations convince their members its better to spend money fighting worker health and safety regulations than investing in worker protections. One of their tactics is meeting with the OIRA staff who are assigned to review draft proposed and final rules. The OSHA silica rule hasn’t even been proposed yet, so the lobbyists are trying to influence its content (before it is shared publicly with the rest of us) or stop the proposal altogether.

These private meetings between OIRA and interested parties on draft or pending rules really bug me. They bothered me when I was a career employee at OSHA and MSHA, and they bother me now as an observer of the regulatory process. I call them extra-curricular meetings [not the best term and I'll take suggestions] because they circumvent the regular notice and comment rulemaking process. The Administrative Procedure Act guides the process that many federal agencies use to develop proposed and final rules. It is meant to be a process that applies to everyone equally; not one that gives special access to the politically-connected, economically privileged, or favored groups. Agencies like OSHA, develops a proposed rule and the public is given an opportunity–an equal opporunity—to provide comments. The comment period is open to everyone. This should be the one and only avenue for those who endorse or oppose a proposed rule to provide their perspective, expertise, or opinion to an Administration.

At OSHA, not only do they offer a lengthy comment period, but after a rule is proposed, OSHA holds many days—often weeks or months—-of public hearings at which individuals can testify about the proposal and even cross-examine other witnesses. With a process that is already robust and full of opportunity for public participation, why does the White House allow for these extra-curricular meetings??

There’s no reason for them, and there should be no place for them in a process that already provides ample time and methods for any interest group to participate.

As for the two extra-curricular meetings that Obama’s OIRA has already allowed, here’s what I’ve been able to find out:

*During the week of March 28, OIRA staff hosted representatives of the American Chemistry Council’s Crystalline Silica Panel.

*During the week of April 4, the guests of OIRA were brick industry officials.

I’ll be contacting OIRA today to ask if they plan to disclose information about these meetings on their website. I’ll also be asking for a copy of their written policy for posting information about these meetings. OIRA is fond of giving new mandates to federal agencies for written policies. It will be interesting to see if they have any of their own, and if so, will they disclose them.

[As of 4/15/11, the OIRA website still does not disclose the two industry meetings, and I've received no response yet to my inquiry from OMB's public affairs office.]

[On 4/20/11, OIRA disclosed on its website the names and affiliations of the individuals who participated in the meetings. The non-government participants at the March 31 meeting were Mark Ellis, Industrial Minerals Association-North America; Neil King, American Chemistry Council Crystalline Silica Panel (ACC Silica); Joe Shapior, Unimin Corporation; Jackson Morrill, ACC Silica; Stephanie Salmon, American Foundry Society; Robert Croliuns,The Refractories Institute; and Henry Chajet, Patton Boggs LLP. The non-government participants at the April 7 meeting were John Miller, Whiteacre Greer Co.; Barry Miller, Redland Brick Inc.; Susan Miller and Gregg Borchett, Brick Industry Association (BIA); and Bob Glenn, Glenn Consulting Group. The government representatives were from OMB, Small Business Administration and the Labor Department. Materials presented by the industry participants to the governmetn officials are now also posted on the OIRA website.]

[On 4/21/11, OIRA disclosed on its website another meeting requested by industry representatives to discuss OSHA's not yet proposed rule on silica. Participants at that meeting included Chris Williams and Sean Thuman, Associated Builders & Contrators; Stephen Kinn Donley's Inc. & Associated General Contractors of America; Brad Sant, American Road & Transportation Builders Association; John Masarick, Independent Electrical Contractors; Pete Chaney, Mechanical Contractors Assn. of America; Rashod Johnson, Mason Contractors Assoc. of America; Robert Matuga and Felicia Watson, National Association of Home Builders; Duane Musser, National Roofing Contractors Assn.; and Franklin Davis, American Subcontractors Association. The OMB notice indicates that OIRA director Cass Sunstein also attended the meeting.]

[By May 11, 2011, two additional meetings were held with parties interested in OSHA's draft proposed silica rule and OIRA staff. On May 4, two individuals representing the American Thoracic Society (ATS), Tee Guidotti, MD, MPH and Gary Ewart. ATS is a medical association dedicated to lung diseases and critical care. On May 5, representatives of the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, Laborer's Health and Safety Fund, Center for Construction Research & Training, the United Auto Workers, the United Steelworkers met with OMB/OIRA staff also met with OMB/OIRA staff about the draft OSHA rule.]

[On August 2, 2011, representatives of the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Crystalline Silica panel met again with OIRA staff about the draft proposed OSHA rule. The industry participants at the meeting were: Jackson Morrill and Neil King (ACC), Mark Ellis (National Industrial Sand Association), Joseph Shapiro (Unimin Corp), Jack Waggener (URS Corp) and Stu Sessions (Environomics Inc.)

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