Joseph M. Clapp and John L. Henshaw were the elder statesmen of safety management at top U.S. companies before they became federal regulators. In their previous lives, they were the regulated ones, who knew the ins and outs of the federal rules governing the trucking and chemical industries, respectively. Clapp was chairman of Roadway Services Inc., one of the nation's largest trucking companies, and Henshaw had spent most of his career at Monsanto Co. Clapp now heads the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Henshaw the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This is what it looks like from the other side of the desk .

Joseph Clapp got to know his regulator in 1960 when H. Overton Kemp, a district supervisor for the now-defunct Interstate Commerce Commission, pulled up in his black-and-white Studebaker to have a look at the books of Ryder Tank Line Inc., a small Greensboro, N.C., company where Clapp was safety director. Clapp was 24 and working in his first management job. When the inspector, dressed in a white suit, arrived unannounced and asked for the company's files and records, Clapp felt as if he had been pulled over for speeding. "That's kind of how your heart acts," he said.

"I did okay, but I was only in the job for six months. It was all new to me," said Clapp.

Clapp said he wanted to figure out how to get an A on the test the next time, so he went to see Ernie Cox, head of the ICC's Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety. He said Cox pointed out some deficiencies and how to remedy them. Clapp said he admired Cox's commitment and realized that "there were bureaucrats who were genuine, hardworking people who were not just there to be endured."

Fast-forward to October 2001, when Clapp was appointed administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. He was 64 and retired for five years from his post at Roadway in Akron, Ohio. "I had no plan, desire or notion to go back to work for anyone," he said. The call came out of the blue to be the first administrator of the FMCSA, the successor agency to the Office of Motor Carriers, which was mired in conflict and controversy over its effectiveness as a regulator and its close ties to the trucking industry.

Clapp said he has drawn on his management experience in trying to lead the agency. "At the end of the day, it's a people thing," he said.

But he acknowledges that there are constraints to managing a federal agency. He doesn't have the freedom to make decisions quickly as he did as chief executive of Roadway: "Here, I have to remember that I'm part of a department, an administration and a government."

The last time he was in Washington for any length of time was when he was a lobbyist for Roadway Express from 1975 to 1979. The debate over trucking deregulation was underway. He was a one-person office whose work focused on the Department of Transportation, the ICC and the trade associations. He came to know Norman Y. Mineta, now secretary of transportation, who then was a congressman on the House Public Works Committee.

Clapp said his objective now is not simply to issue regulations but also to motivate people to change their behavior and make good decisions. "We're not just there to write up citations and give someone a ticket. We're there to set expectations. A safety audit gives us an opportunity to look them in the eye and say what is expected of them," he said. The agency does, however, have a full docket of rulemakings, some of them years late in being completed. One of the biggest is the "hours-of-service rule," which was proposed in 2000 and would change the allowable number of hours a trucker can be on the road. Clapp said the agency has "developed some options" and an outside firm is evaluating them. No word on when a final rule will be forthcoming.

Safety advocates have long been critical of the slow pace of rulemaking at the agency and its predecessor, regardless of who has been heading it. They also charged that the agency would have let unsafe Mexican trucks across the border last year if Congress had not intervened, insisting on more rules and safeguards. "The measure of an administration is if they are moving the regulatory agenda forward. Things are stuck in neutral," said Jackie Gillan, vice president for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. She added: "Whether you like regulations or not, it's a regulatory agency, not a public affairs shop."

John Henshaw knows the rule book inside out. Before he took the OSHA job on Aug. 3, 2001, he was director of environment, safety and health at Astaris LLC, a chemical company in St. Louis. From 1975 to 1995 he worked at Monsanto.

It was his job to make sure his employers' plants were in compliance with the rules. He found himself trying to sell his plant managers on safety, offering incentives, encouragement and "a little bit of peer pressure." OSHA records show that Monsanto had been cited by the agency over the years for various violations that Henshaw said were mostly procedural -- recordkeeping and training.

Henshaw came to the OSHA job as a seasoned professional, a certified industrial hygienist. He said one impression of government that he has found not to be true is that it is not as nimble as the private sector and thus doesn't accomplish much. "I'm pleasantly surprised by what we can get done. People aren't just here to collect paychecks," he said.

But he has found that the gears of the bureaucracy, and his own schedule, grind more slowly because of the politics and the constituent work that is so much a part of the job. "There's a constituent for every little thing," he said. Though he finds these issues time consuming, he realizes that he once was a constituent with issues that he wanted to have addressed in Washington.

Under Henshaw, the agency's regulatory agenda for the next year has been pared down. He said this has been done to reflect reality, though organized labor is watching this subtraction closely. He said he wanted the list to represent what the agency could accomplish over that period of time, rather than what it wished it could achieve.

"When something is on the agenda, you're looking for it," said Henshaw, reflecting the feelings of safety managers. We had things on there for 15 years, and that's not helping anyone. I'm a staunch supporter of doing what you say you're going to do."

One of the most contentious issues Henshaw has in front of him is ergonomics regulation. Reflecting his belief that cooperation and selling business on finding ways to solve safety problems are as important as enforcement activities, OSHA is concentrating on issuing voluntary industry guidelines to address workplace injuries that come from lifting and repetitive motions.

Labor was supportive of Henshaw's nomination, but it has become less enthusiastic as guidelines shaped by industry have taken the place of rules. "They aren't even talking to the unions involved," said Peg Seminario, director of occupational safety and health for the AFL-CIO. "They are contracting out the development of guidelines to employers."