Washington Report 062001

Date Published: 
Original Author: 
Robert M. Fells
Original Publication: 
ICCFA Magazine

Law School Professor Slated as New FTC Commissioner 

by Robert M. Fells, Esq., general counsel 
Timothy Muris, a law professor at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, has been selected by President Bush to become the new chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Muris was a director at the FTC during the Reagan Administration in the 1980s and is known for his pro-business views on competition.
Senate confirmation of Muris' appointment is expected. The current FTC chairman, Robert Pitofsky, has announced his resignation effective in early June, regardless of whether or not Muris has been confirmed at that time. A number of projects at the FTC are on hold pending the arrival of Muris and the anticipated new direction some FTC programs may take. At this time, it is uncertain what effect, if any, the new chairman may exert over the Funeral Rule review, which has been under way since May 1999.
An FTC staff report on the Funeral Rule has been expected since spring of last year, but FTC staff are unable to estimate at this point when the report will be published.
ICFA members will be kept informed of all important developments. 

Onerous OSHA Ergonomics Program Repealed

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) made it official on April 23. Effective that day, the complicated ergonomics program hurriedly promulgated by OSHA in the last weeks of the Clinton administration, over the loud objections of business leaders, was officially invalidated. This action resulted because both houses of the newly convened 107th Congress got together in early March to abolish the ergonomics program under the Congressional Review Act. The ergonomics regulations have the distinction of being the first federal agency regulations abolished under that act. As he had promised, President Bush signed the legislation into law with little fanfare on March 20.
The ICFA was part of a broad-based coalition of industries that fought the ergonomics proposal and testified before the Department of Labor last year in opposition to the plan. Briefly, the ergonomics standard would have required employers to establish: 1) management leadership and employee participation programs; 2) hazard information and reporting; 3) job hazard and analysis control; 4) training; 5) Musculoskeletal Disorder ("MSD" -- such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and back injuries) management; and 6) program evaluation. In addition to the vague provisions and substantial fines for noncompliance, there was considerable disagreement over the costs to American businesses. OSHA claimed the program would cost businesses approximately $4 billion annually, but the U.S. Small Business Administration predicted the cost could be 15 times higher.
Adding to the controversy, OSHA refused to wait until the conclusion of a Congressionally funded study by the National Academy of Sciences into the causes and extent of MSDs in the workplace. Instead, OSHA vowed to implement the new program before the end of the Clinton administration, which it did. However, even before the ergonomics program was rescinded, the National Coalition on Ergonomics, which the ICFA supported, sought an injunction in federal court to stop the program from being implemented. Fortunately, the injunction became unnecessary and the court presumably will dismiss the lawsuit seeking it.
The ICFA testimony before the Department of Labor last spring, presented by Past President Edward C. Laux, CCE, stressed the difficulties in understanding the requirements of the ergonomics standard because "cemeteries and funeral homes in compliance with existing OSHA safety standards have found these regulations workable because they define the potential hazard and then identify appropriate remedies. By contrast, the ergonomicsproposal would require employers to become MSD experts in identifying and rectifying potential hazards on their own."
The Bush administration's new secretary of labor, Elaine Chao, has said her department intends to develop more practical, and less complex, guidelines to reduce MSD-related injuries. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce believes development of new worker safeguards will be conducted in an atmosphere less hostile to businesses than was the case during the Clinton administration. ICFA members will be kept informed of new developments.