Alex Acosta, who served as the 27th U.S. Secretary of Labor for slightly more than two years, resigned in mid-July following criticism of a plea deal he had arranged when serving as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. The resignation, and past plea agreement, are tied to financier Jeffrey Epstein, who faces a fresh slate of charges in New York, similar to those he faced in Florida.
Acosta's fast departure is an indication of how quickly a dramatic change can occur within regulatory agencies, even at the highest levels of the federal government. Businesses that recognize the value of EHS compliance should use this incident as a reminder that the big picture — the potential for changes in terms of regulatory enforcement and priorities — can unexpectedly shift with little notice for companies ahead of time. Let's consider the impact of Acosta's resignation on OSHA specifically and what it means for the companies it regulates.
"OSHA and the DOL both now have temporary, acting leaders in place."
Although Acosta isn't in charge of day-to-day management of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, his resignation could have a significant impact on the federal health and safety regulator. The Secretary of Labor has a hierarchical final oversight component in terms of OSHA's operations, and can also serve in an important role by bringing OSHA-related concerns to the attention of the president and other cabinet members.
The Department of Labor will soon see Patrick Pizzella, who has served in the Deputy Secretary position since April 2018, move into an acting leadership role in late July. While this means the Department will have a short-term solution for top-level leadership in place soon after Acosta departs, there are still some concerns when it comes to long-term continuity for OSHA, which also has a temporary leader in place.
Loren Sweatt, Acting Assistant Secretary of OSHA, has relevant experience in the world of health and safety, and core elements of OSHA's operations, like inspections and rule enforcement, so the organization shouldn't be affected in a substantial way. However, the temporary nature of her position makes it more difficult for the administration to develop and execute long-term plans — and for business owners to anticipate them. With the Department of Labor as a whole also having interim leadership in place, there's more uncertainty for the administration, and EHS specialists and businesses, to contend with in the future.