The Dept of Labor’s Inspector General issued not one, but two reports yesterday criticizing OSHA’s management practices, and fueling calls for the prompt appointment of competent, worker-safety committed leaders to get the agency back on track.  The first IG report concerns the “consulting services” provided by Mr. Randy Kimlin, an advisor to (and South Carolina buddy of) former OSHA chief Ed Foulke.  Kimlin worked at OSHA from April 2006 to July 2008.  The IG reports in Procurement Violations and Irregularities Occurred in OSHA’s Oversight of a Blanket Purchase Agreement that Mr. Kimlin’s services total $681,379, yet OSHA’s oversight of the contract was riddled with irregularities and OSHA was “not able to provide products or deliverables produced by Mr. Kimlin.”  

I first heard of Mr. Randy Kimlin this past summer when Washington Post reporter Jeff Smith began research for his story Under Bush, OSHA Mired in Inaction (Dec 29, 2008).  In response to an inquiry from Smith, I dugged around a bit and started hearing bizarre tales of Mr. Kimlin’s proclivity for off-site retreats and endless brainstorming sessions to create a new OSHA mission statement. 

I think Smith’s investigation of the Kimlin fiasco likely compelled the referral to the IG and thus yesterday’s report.  Smith’s reporting alone revealed:

  • Kimlin’s salary was “higher than that received by Vice President Cheney, any member of Congress and Foulke himself during that period.”
  • “Kimlin was paid an additional $97,730 in reimbursements for nearly weekly flights back to South Carolina and for a hotel room on Capitol Hill”
  • Kimlin’s contract “was awarded without competition.”
  • OSHA staff “privately questioned two retreats that [Kimlin] organized at a cost of at least a half-million dollars and that resulted in a 22-word change to the agency’s mission.
  • Kimlin’s duties included “to help arrange staff meetings and shift OSHA from a culture of inspections to less confrontational “compliance assistance.”

The IG findings elaborate and corroborate what the Wash Post reporter initially wrote.  [If there’s any question in your mind about why our democracy needs a talented journalists corps working at robust, independent newspapers, Smith reporting tells us!!)

The second IG report issued yesterday “Employers with Reported Fatalities were not always Properly Identified and Inspected under OSHA’s Enhanced Enforcement Program,” confirms what OSHA inspectors, and local and regional officials have known for years, the program fails utterly to meet its purpose of identifying “bad actors employers.”   If you read the official guidance document about the program, it’s not difficult to figure out why the program doesn’t work: it’s convoluted, and over-complicated, and created an administrative nightmare.  Is it any surprise that the IG found the following:

  • “OSHA generally did not inspect related worksites when company-wide safety and health issues indicated workers at other employer worksites were at risk for serious injury or death.”
  • “OSHA did not properly consider related worksite inspections for 226 of 282 sampled EEP qualifying inspections.”
  • “In our sampled cases, 34 employers had 47 additional fatalites at related worksites.”

Even OSHA’s own review of the EEP said the program was not effective in identify employers who really needed OSHA’s attention.  A recent internal memo noted:

  • “the majority of these establishments [identified by EEP] were not really ‘bad actors’ and few had any significant history with OSHA.”
  • “we are still not targeting the ‘bad actors’ the program is intended for.”

I wonder… if you ask OSHA inspectors and the local and regional managers who are the “bad actor” employers are, would they come up with a more accurate list than the EEP? 

I’m all for devising a system that helps OSHA target is VERY scarce resources to places of employment where workers are at the greatest risk of death, injury and disease.  But clearly, the EEP is not the answer.   I’m troubled to hear (but have not been able to confirm) that EEP defenders in OSHA have asked Labor Secretary Solis to use some of the $80 million of stimulus money * to fund more EEP activities.   Egads! I hope the Secretary’s advisors read the IG report and learn for themselves why sinking more money into the EEP would not serve the workers’ health and safety cause. 

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*(see page 60 of 407 page bill)