Dr. Anthony Robbins, head of the government's National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (HIOSH), has been fired by Health and Human Services Secretary Richard S. Schweiker in what Schweiker called "the public interest."
The firing Wednesday afternoon was accompanied by notice that Robins' commission as an assistant surgeon general in the Public Health Service commissioned corps, would be terminated. A corps official yesterday called this an act almost without precedent, except in cases of gross misconduct.
Schweiker's action came a few days after Washington Watch, monthly regulatory publication of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, published a four-page article attacking Robbins as a "social activist" with a "radical, antibusiness positure."
The article said Robbins had improperly turned his research agency into a zealous enforcement arm of the Labor Department's official job safety regulator, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The article, by Washington Watch editor Hank Cox, said Robbins drew political support from "the same unions that orchestrated [a] smear campaign against [then-senator] Schweiker last year when the senator introduced a bill to curb OSHA's power."
Headquartered in Rockville, the research institute is a unit of the Public Health Service's Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, a prestigious health agency whose officials generally have been immune from political firings.
Dr. William Foege, the CDC's head, referred inquiries to an HHS press officer, who issued a two-sentence statement by Schweiker.
"THE SECRETARY BELIEVES THE MISSION OF NIOSH is critical to the effort to improve workplace safety and health. The secretary decided that the departure of Dr. Robbins and selection of a highly qualified successor would best serve the public interest."
Robbins yesterday called the Chamber of Commerce article an "entirely scurrilious" collection of untruths.
A former Vermont and Colorado state health officer with a reputation for zeal in health matters, he was named NIOSH director in December 1978, and received his Public Health Service commission in the fall of 1979.