Labor's Letters Push Envelope, Panel Told

Article excerpt

Rep. David M. McIntosh yesterday accused the Department of Labor of "regulating through the back door" by issuing guidance letters and advisories to businesses.

The Indiana Republican, a subcommittee chairman, was holding a hearing on his bill requiring federal agencies to make clear distinctions between legally binding and non-binding documents it sends to businesses.

He drafted the bill following a January controversy over a letter Department of Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman sent to a business. The so-called "guidance" letter, which said business owners are responsible for injuries incurred by employees working at home, was later rescinded by the department.

In a hearing before the Government Reform subcommittee on national economic growth, natural resources and regulatory affairs, business owners and industry representatives also criticized guidance letters.

They said the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration send out letters that are contradictory and unclear.

Guidance letters are designed to clarify existing regulations, but witnesses accused the department of essentially creating new legislation with the letters - without Congress' consent.

Mr. McIntosh noted that OSHA and other federal agencies are supposed to submit letters making general pronouncements on law to Congress, under the Congressional Review Act.

But of the 3,374 guidance documents written last year by Labor and OSHA, none were submitted for congressional review.

"Such backdoor regulation is an abuse of power and a corruption of our constitutional system," Mr. McIntosh said.

He also cited the example of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. …