OSHA runs into repetitive problem in House

The issue of ergonomics has confronted the House so many times that it is causing members repetitive stress. It might also be affecting their memories.

For years, Republicans and their business allies have questioned whether there is sufficient scientific evidence to support the enactment of federal requirements for how employers must deal with employees suffering from repetitive-stress injuries. After the Republicans took over Congress in 1995, Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, offered an annual appropriations amendment that barred the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from working on these ergonomics standards.

Bonilla's amendment usually sparked contentious debate in Congress and with the Clinton Administration. But in 1995 and 1996, OSHA's ergonomics rules were blocked. Then, as another showdown over the issue loomed in 1997, Bonilla and fellow House Republican appropriators brokered a compromise: They would prohibit OSHA from proceeding with its rule for only one more year, during which they encouraged the agency to further study the issue.

In a report accompanying the fiscal 1998 appropriations bill for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education departments, the House Appropriations Committee said this of the deal: "The committee will refrain from any further restrictions with regard to the development, promulgation, or issuance of an ergonomic standard following fiscal year 1998."

House Republicans have stuck to that commitment-until now. The Labor-HHS appropriations bill passed by the House on June 14 prohibits OSHA from issuing any final ergonomics standards. Rep. Anne Northup, R-Ky., offered the provision in the Appropriations Committee last month, and many members who also sat on the panel in 1997 voted for it. Many appropriators also supported Northup's provision when it was challenged on the House floor on June 8.

The issue is an important one for the National Federation of Independent Business, which recently issued a news release with the headline "Small Business Will Remember Any Votes to Deny Protection from Costly Ergonomics Mandate." But House Republican appropriators did not mention the NFIB's election-year threat when asked about their recent votes.

Northup apparently does not think much of the 1997 deal made by then-Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La., and ranking member David R. Obey, D-Wis. "It is absolutely unconstitutional for one Congress to bind the hands of another Congress," declared Northup, who also criticized OSHA for drafting a rule "that was as sweeping as it could be."

Appropriations Chairman C.W. "Bill" Young, R-Fla., was unaware of the 1997 agreement until after the committee vote in May, a spokeswoman said. "Had he known about the agreement, he probably would have followed through on the earlier commitment," she said. "Since he was not a party to it, he thought he did what was right." Bonilla, for his part, said he simply had agreed in 1997 not to bring up the ergonomics issue again but that should not have stopped any other lawmaker from doing so.

The Senate may not go along with the House's attempt to block OSHA's ergonomics standards, which the agency would like to issue by year's end, and the White House will surely object. In any event, Democrats such as Obey point to the House Republicans' recent move as cause for concern. "If you can't count on a member's word in the future," said Obey, "then the lubricant that leads to compromise wears out."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.