Yesterday afternoon, if you happened to MSHA's website and click on the Asst. Secretary's button, you'd see this, with the ominous caption:
"The page you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable."
That was a tell-taleÂ sign that Richard Stickler's recess-appointment tenure as MSHA's chief has come to an end.Â Ken Ward ofÂ The Charleston Gazette reports today in "Stickler out at MSHA" that a political appointee named John Pallasch is now the acting Assistant Secretary for MSHA.
"...on Thursday, MSHA officials revealed that agency staffer John Pallasch had been named to Sticklerâs job...on an acting basis.Â Â Previously, Pallasch had been a deputy assistant labor secretary handling policy matters for MSHA. Before that, he was a special assistant in MSHAâs administration unit, and worked for the labor departmentâs Office of Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management."
Some readers of The Pump Handle may recall that MSHA had an "acting" assistant secretary for nearly two years, when Mr. David Dye served for Secretary Elaine Chao as the mine safety chief.Â Mr. Dye was in charge of MSHA from November 2004, during the Sago disaster, and until October 2006.Â He may be best remembered forÂ walking out of aÂ Senate hearing convened by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA)Â about theÂ Sago tragedy which claimed 12 miners' lives on January 2, 2006.Â
Information about this newest "acting" MSHA chiefÂ is hard to come by, although Ken WardÂ tried to pry something out of Administration officials:
"...itâs not clear how long Pallasch will be running the $340 million agency or if President Bush plans to submit a different nominee to Congress.Â Amy Louviere, an MSHA spokeswoman, declined to answer such questions. Louviere referred a reporter to David James, the top spokesman for Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.Â James did not return repeated phone calls. In an e-mail message, James did not elaborate on what Chaoâs plans are for MSHA leadership through the rest of Bushâs term."
Hmmph.Â I feel a little schnookered----just yesterday I wrote favorably about Stickler's $220,000 penalty issued on Dec. 28 to a mine operator for flagrantly violating lockout/tagout rules.
"Perhaps the higher-ups in Secretary Elaine Chaoâs office and at the White House will be busy this year stumping for their favorite GOP presidential candidates that theyâll leave Mr. Stickler alone to do the apolitical work of enforcing mine safety laws.Â Heâs off to a good startÂ announcing this penalty against TECO Energyâs Â (NYSE: TE) Perry Coal Mine."
I also tried to make the case for keeping SticklerÂ on-board at MSHA in aÂ Dec. 14 postÂ âMSHAâs Stickler: Will he stay or will he go?â.
âTo his credit, Mr. Stickler hasÂ made a lot of commitmentsÂ over the last few months to straighten things out at the agency.Â Heâs instituted a program to put âbad-actorâ mine operators on notice (i.e.,pattern of violations), he established anÂ office of accountabilityÂ andÂ theÂ 100 percent plan to ensure allÂ inspections are completed.Â Perhaps heâs also learned some harsh lessonsÂ about his agencyâs culture and the performance of his top staff.Â The learning curve is steeper than most people realize.Â With only one year left in the G.W. Bush Administration, it would be wise to keep Mr. SticklerÂ on board at MSHA.Â WeÂ should expect that heâs learned from his mistakes andÂ demand that heÂ make good on his promises.âÂ Â
I'm 0-100 onÂ guessing what Secretary Chao and the White House will do when it comes to protecting workers' health and safety.