A House subcommittee added a few sour notes yesterday to the chorus of praise that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been receiving for reforming itself, and OSHA immediately cried foul.
The result was a cross-fire of press releases in which the staff of the Government Operations Subcommittee on Manpower and Housing softened the tone of its earlier assessment and OSHA stuck by its claim of injured innocence, protesting that the subcommittee had overlooked most of the ageny's recent accomplishments.
"The drafters of this report have made almost no mention of the accomplishments of the last six months of this administration," complained OSHA Administrator Eula Bingham. "Instead the report simply reiterates many of the problems we have already brought to public attention and that we have taken steps to correct."
The 21-page report is mainly a rehash of old criticisms of OSHA as, among other things, the "symbol of bureaucratic bungling and the heavy hand of government intervention." It also reiterates many previous congressional recommendations, some of which it contends - or at least implies - have not been implemented by the new Carter administration team.
But what really started the flak flying was a press release headlined "Millions Exposed to Toxic Substances While Osha Nitpicks." It was recalled and replaced by one reading "Committee Urges Osha to Accelerate Announced Reforms" that quoted the subcommittee head, Rep. Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.). as saying Osha has made "some progress" but adding that "millions of workers are still being exposed to toxic chemicals without their knowledge and without proper protection."
OSHA was not mollified. An aide described Bingham as "outraged" and Labor Secretary Ray Marshall as "dumbfounded." The aide directed a reporter to the office of subcommittee member Andrew Maguire (D-N.J.). where a staff member suggested that the report was "cosmetically unfair."
In a three-page, point-by-point rebuttal, Bingham said, "We have taken significant action in all these areas," and noted that OSHA is planning to issue shortly a list of so-called "nitpicking" rules that will no longer be enforced. She said labeling and worker access to records have been included in recent chemical standards and across-the-board rules will be issued soon.
Explaining their high-anxiety level over the report, OSHA officials expressed fear it would be used by "Stop-OSHA" forces, which attack the program as unwarranted governmental intervention in business. A subcommittee source said the opposite: to strengthen OSHA's hand in ridding industry of health hazards.