Government transparency groups ask Labor Dept to restore info scrubbed from website

The Pump Handle reported on May 4, 2012 that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) had scrubbed clean its website of documents on an abruptly withdrawn proposed regulation to protect young workers from being injured or killed in agricultural jobs.   Two weeks later, a group of organizations dedicated to government transparency and accountability wrote to Obama Administration officials asking them to

“re-post the documents online relating to now-withdrawn proposed rules concerning child labor in agriculture.”

The DOL’s Wage & Hour Division proposed in August 2011 a rule to prohibit children aged 15 and younger, who work somewhere other than a family farm, from doing certain dangerous tasks.  The rule had vocal opponents in Congress and by many farming associations, but was supported by child labor, public health, worker safety and other groups.  DOL received public comments from more than 10,000 individuals and organizations.  Feeling the heat in the anti-regulatory climate, DOL withdrew the rule on the eve of Worker Memorial Day.   Strangely, it was also the day the Obama Administration issued a Presidential Proclamation saying they were recommitting themselves

“to ensuring no worker ever has to choose between life and a paycheck.”

Too many young workers in agriculture are forced to do just that.

The May 23 letter from the Sunlight Foundation, the American Library Association, the Center for Media and Democracy, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Government Accountability Project, OpentheGovernment.org and others, noted:

Removing substantive policy materials immediately after crucial decisions is inconsistent with Obama administration policies on openness and transparency, and limits public knowledge and understanding of agency decisions. Whether a proposed rule is withdrawn as a result of a change in administration policy, political considerations, or failure to reach an agreement on the rules scope, explanatory materials provide context for the decision and may help future debate and understanding of the issue.

…There is a clear public interest in ongoing access to documents related to proposed rules even when those proposals are later withdrawn. As the proposed rule still remains available to stakeholders through the Federal Register, so too should the supporting documentation.

No major administration decision should be accompanied by related materials disappearance from public view.We urge you to put the documents back on your website to ensure that interested members of the public have adequate access to this important information and can more fully understand the contents and context of the withdrawn rule.

We support the request made by these groups, and recently sent an inquiry to DOL asking for their response to it.  We’ll report here when we receive it from DOL.