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Senate Confirms Biden’s Occupational Safety and Health Nominee

OSHA has not had a confirmed leader since January 2017.

The Senate voted 50-41 on Monday evening to confirm President Biden’s nominee to lead the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Douglas Parker, most recently chief of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, was confirmed to be the assistant secretary of labor at the Labor Department, which makes him the leader of the workplace safety agency that has about 1,800 employees. Parker previously served as deputy assistant secretary for policy in the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration under the Obama administration and was part of the Biden transition team on worker health and safety issues.

“I'm very excited,” Jordan Barab, OSHA deputy assistant secretary from 2009 to 2017, told Government Executive on Monday. “Doug will be a strong advocate for worker safety and health, and he has the experience and expertise to lead OSHA through these challenging times.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor on Monday that Parker “has a proven track record of protecting everyday Americans in the workplace, [which is] more important now than ever before.”

This is a critical moment for OSHA as it is about to release an emergency rule to require companies with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated or submit to frequent coronavirus testing. The rule is currently under review by the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and has sparked much backlash from Republican governors and lawmakers. 

Principals from the law firm Jackson Lewis wrote that Parker’s nomination signals “significant regulatory and enforcement changes” at the agency. Also, if confirmed, he “would become the first to fill the post since David Michaels left it in January 2017” they wrote. “[President] Trump nominated Scott Mugno for the position on October 17, 2017, but Mugno withdrew from consideration in May 2019 after the Senate failed to act on his nomination.”

Schumer said the fact that OSHA did not have a permanent leader throughout the Trump administration “shows how little they cared about worker safety.” 

David Michaels, who was the most recent confirmed OSHA head, congratulated Parker on Twitter on his impending confirmation.

During his confirmation hearing in May, Parker said that in his previous government roles maintaining a dialog with stakeholders was a “top priority” and, if confirmed to lead OSHA, he would continue that. “We do not have to choose between a strong economy and good, safe jobs; listening to and learning from stakeholders is how we can ensure both,” he said. 

Parker also defended California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health decision to issue an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19, as the Biden administration was working on a national one.

“I don’t regret what we did, senator, because I believe it saved lives in California and did contribute to the improvement in the situation from being one of the hardest hit states to the state now with one of the lowest rates,” said Parker in response to a question from Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “But it wasn’t where we began. We began with offering compliance assistance to employers, understanding that they needed assistance in figuring out how to address COVID-19.

Under the Trump administration, OSHA was accused of not doing enough for the pandemic response, though administration officials did not agree with that assessment. On Biden’s first full day in office he issued an executive order directing the agency to bolster its response. 

Since Biden came into office, James Frederick, acting assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health, has been leading OSHA.