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May 02, 2005

Break One Law, Break Many

Normally, this would be Jordan territory, but this article on workplace safety enforcement by the Bush administration is intriguing.

Here's the odd thing. Apparently, the administration has latched onto a great strategy for holding corporations accountable for lawbreaking but the politicos at the top may not be happy about it.

First, the idea: What the agencies have realized is that when they find a company has violated a workplace safety crime, it's a good bet that the company is also violating environmental laws with even more serious penalties:

With little fanfare and some adept bureaucratic maneuvering, a partnership between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and a select group of Justice Department prosecutors has been forged to identify and single out for prosecution the nation's most flagrant workplace safety violators...it seeks to marshal a spectrum of existing laws that carry considerably stiffer penalties than those governing workplace safety alone. They include environmental laws, criminal statutes more commonly used in racketeering and white-collar crime cases, and even some provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a corporate reform law. The result, those involved say, should be to increase significantly the number of prosecutions brought against dangerous employers, particularly in cases involving death or injury.
But the Bush Administration is generally unenthusiastic about publicly promoting the initiative:
in March, a news conference to announce the initiative was canceled. The name of the program was also changed. What was to have been called the Worker Endangerment Initiative is now described as a "policy decision" - not an "initiative" - aimed at achieving "environmental protection in the workplace."

Neither Jonathan L. Snare, the acting OSHA administrator, nor Howard Radzely, the Labor Department's top lawyer, would agree to be interviewed about it.

Which is all very interesting. Is this a sign of a policy that is likely to be suppressed or do you have some agency folks who actually want to do a good thing, but are afraid of the administration's corporate allies suppressing it if it becomes too well-known?

In any case, recognizing that a corporation that violates one law is likely to be a more pervasive scofflaw is a principle that should be more broadly applied.

Posted by Nathan at May 2, 2005 07:37 AM