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WASHINGTON -- Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson (R-TN), along with Chairmen James Jeffords (R-VT), Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO), and Michael Enzi (R-WY), today wrote to the Department of Labor (DOL) criticizing the agency''s delay of an investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO) of OSHA''s use of paid expert witnesses in the proposed ergonomics rulemaking. According to the Senators'' letter, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the DOL Solicitor''s Office withheld certain essential documents from the GAO investigators.

"Our citizens have a right to know how their money is being spent," Thompson said. "As the eyes and ears of Congress, GAO has been conducting an objective investigation of the apparent payment and coaching of witnesses in the ergonomics rulemaking. The DOL allowed GAO investigators to operate for months under the misimpression that they had all pertinent information. The investigators should have had access to these documents much earlier. Before we can consider this matter resolved, we need to know whether the DOL is acting in good faith."

"I am disappointed by OSHA''s behavior," said Enzi, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training, which has oversight authority over OSHA. "In early July I asked for the full body of information on this issue, and OSHA has continually kept the information under wraps. OSHA''s efforts to keep this information hidden would be better spent making the workplace safer. The public needs to have access to the facts on the ergonomics rule and we will make sure they get it."

Added Bond, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business: "OSHA''s tactic of hiding and omitting data requested by Congress and the GAO is another blow to the agency's credibility on ergonomics. Apparently, OSHA has no interest in giving a fair hearing to the concerns raised by Congress and no interest in playing by the rules when it comes to implementing an ergonomics regulation."

The GAO investigators were preparing to close out their investigation when the omission of the documents was disclosed. The DOL has only recently granted GAO access to the documents. The Senators'' original request to GAO was triggered by findings of Congressman David McIntosh''s (R-IN) ongoing investigation of OSHA''s use of contractors in the ergonomics rulemaking, which has revealed that about 70 contractors have been paid nearly $2 million to work on the proposal. -end- (The letter is attached.)

September 28, 2000

The Honorable Alexis M. Herman
Secretary of Labor
U.S. Department of Labor
Frances Perkins Building
Third Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210

Dear Secretary Herman:

We write to call to your attention to the lack of cooperation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Department of Labor's (DOL) Solicitor's Office during the General Accounting Office's (GAO) investigation of paid witnesses for the proposed ergonomics regulation. Specifically, we are troubled that OSHA and the Solicitor's Office apparently misled GAO investigators and failed to disclose to GAO the full body of information that was relevant to GAO's inquiry.

To conduct this investigation, GAO was supposed to be granted access to all documents that related to OSHA's work with the witnesses who testified at the hearings on the proposed ergonomics rule. GAO's July 6, 2000, letter to you detailed many of these relevant documents. While GAO was afforded access to certain documents in OSHA's files, the DOL withheld other important documents that had been provided by the witnesses. These documents were clearly relevant to GAO's investigation and within the scope of the request.

It is our understanding that, on several different occasions, GAO investigators asked staff from OSHA and the Solicitor's Office to confirm that the GAO investigators had been given access to all documents relevant to the investigation. On each of these occasions, DOL staff told the GAO investigators that they had indeed been given all relevant information. On one such occasion, GAO specifically requested in writing certain missing documents and was told that the DOL did not have the documents. In fact, the DOL did have some of the missing documents. The DOL's failure to disclose to GAO the full body of relevant information led GAO investigators to operate for months under the misimpression that they had seen all pertinent documents.

We expect that any further delay to GAO's investigation will be avoided and that the DOL will provide GAO with all documents necessary for the investigators to complete their inquiry. We ask that you notify us immediately whether or not any other documents, correspondence, or other information responsive to GAO's July 6 request have been withheld from GAO for any reason.

Sincerely,

Fred Thompson, Chairman
Committee on Governmental Affairs

James M. Jeffords, Chairman
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Christopher S. Bond, Chairman
Committee on Small Business

Michael B. Enzi, Chairman
Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions