Saturday, January 14, 2006

Business Friendly Government

A few days ago, in a post on the Sago mining tragedy, I pondered what the problem with the Mine Safety Agency was, "too much 'Brownie' or too much 'Abramoff.'" It turns out that the problem was a hybrid of both, as an editorial in the Washington Post points out.

JUST AS HURRICANE Katrina put a spotlight on the leadership and competence of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, so, too, it seems, is the Sago coal mine disaster destined to shine a light on the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Unlike FEMA, the mine safety agency -- which sets safety standards for the mining industry and inspects mines to ensure they meet them -- has not been run by inexperienced people. But it does seem that MSHA, like a slew of other agencies in this administration, has been run for the past five years by people who emerged from the industry being regulated.

For three years, until November 2004, the head of MSHA was David D. Lauriski, a former senior mining executive. Mr. Lauriski left his job soon after a Labor Department report found that while he was in charge, the agency had awarded questionable contracts to companies with ties to him or his associates. His term in office was also marked by disputes over an investigation into a major environmental disaster, as well as his attempts to change dust regulations in a way that would have directly benefited his former employer. Since then, the agency has been run by an acting administrator, a political appointee with no background in mine safety. He can, of course, always ask advice from his deputies, many of whom have also come directly from the industry over the past five years.
[Emphasis added]

The current regime decided early on that it wanted such agencies to be less police and more partner when dealing with the industries the agencies regulate. While nice in theory, I suppose, what generally turns out is that the agency suddenly becomes more concerned with the industry's bottom line than in the issues it is supposed to regulate. The results are rarely as dramatic as the Sago disaster, but they are every bit as destructive.

I wonder how many more people will die because of their jobs before 2008?

Way to go, George.


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