The Departure of Scott Mungo: Will Lack of Leadership Affect OSHA’s Effectiveness?

Scott Mungo recently withdrew his name from consideration as the nominee for Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA at the Department of Labor. It had been 19 months of waiting, and some insiders said that he was frustrated with the confirmation process and just wanted to move along with his life. It might have been difficult for Mungo not to personalize the delay. The Senate’s confirmation of Cheryl Stanton to be the DOL Wage and Hour Administrator, in April, was quite speedy.

There was never anything controversial about this nomination. Mungo‘s confirmation should have been easy. When he was first nominated in 2017, he retired from a 24-year career at FedEx – the last six years as vice president of safety, sustainability, and vehicle maintenance. He has been waiting for confirmation ever since.

The loss of Mungo at this juncture — just 16 months before the 2020 elections — probably means that OSHA will be leaderless for an entire presidential administration. This hasn’t ever happened before. And it’s more than just the top spot that’s unfilled.

The entire leadership structure at OSHA is full of vacancies. Presumably, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA would play an important role in filling these vacancies. Dave Johnson, ISHN Editor, said in a recent editorial that at the “end of April, 2019, the OSHA organizational chart was shot through with holes and vacancies and transients.” Top-level senior advisors? Vacant. Deputy Assistant Secretary? Vacant. Temporary or acting replacements head up the directorate of enforcement programs, the directorate of training and education, and the directorate of constructions. Loren Sweatt is pulling double duty as the acting head of OSHA, and also the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary.

When an agency the size of OSHA lacks strong leadership—just like a business lacking leadership — its effectiveness is diminished. When there isn’t a leader, there’s no overall vision or navigational direction for the organization to respond to and follow.

The ultimate consequences of a “leaderless OSHA” have yet to be seen. Inspection levels in Region 1 haven’t changed, and have been about the same since I started practicing in 2000. The national inspection data that’s out there for 2017 and 2018 show inspection numbers similar to previous years.

The recent 2020 budget proposal from the House has allocated $660.9 million for OSHA — around $103 million more than the Trump administration’s proposed budget for the agency. If approved, this would substantially help OSHA function more efficiently — but it won’t solve the leadership problem. This is something to watch in the coming months.

Feel free to contact me for more information about this or any other topic related to OSHA, product liability, intellectual property and technology, or any general civil litigation issue.

About the Author: James Laboe

 

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