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Letter to U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman

Location: Unknown

July 18, 2006

The Honorable Samuel W. Bodman
Secretary of Energy
U.S. Department of Energy
Washington, D.C. 20585

Dear Secretary Bodman:

We understand you are considering a reorganization of environment, safety, and health responsibilities currently under the Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health of the Department of Energy (DOE). As Senate co-sponsors of legislation to establish enforceable worker safety and health standards at DOE facilities and legislation to compensate cold war veterans for occupational illnesses, we have a longstanding interest and involvement in this program. We are writing to express our deep concerns about this potential reorganization.

As you know, this office has responsibility for several areas of critical importance to the 130,000 DOE employees and the public. DOE is a self-regulating entity, not subject to the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Within DOE, the ES&H Office provides the only independent oversight of worker safety and health at DOE's nuclear facilities. In addition, it funds and oversees DOE's medical screening programs that monitor employees' workplace exposure to toxic or harmful conditions. The ES&H Office's role in tracking beryllium disease is essential to ensuring that DOE employees get the medical attention they need and deserve. Any diminution in DOE's attention to these functions caused by their dispersal to other offices could be damaging to the health of the public and DOE's employees.

We have seen no analysis to indicate that an organizational problem exists within the Office of Environment, Safety and Health. Absent a clearly defined problem, we do not see how an entire reorganization is justified. Moreover, we see no evidence that any consideration was given to strengthening and improving the current functions of the Office, rather dismantling the Office and sending its functions to different offices within DOE.

We are also concerned that depriving environment, safety, and health responsibilities of leadership at the Assistant Secretary level will decrease the prominence of these issues on a day-to-day basis. There have been dire consequences for the environment and workers in the past when DOE has not paid sufficient attention to these issues. Indeed, it was precisely because of the serious failures of DOE to provide adequate worker safety protections that led then Secretary Harrington in the 1980's to establish the ES&H office with responsibility to oversee worker safety and health at DOE facilities. The need for continued high level attention has not diminished. These critically important issues still need and deserve careful oversight. We believe that adequate attention and oversight require a dedicated Assistant Secretary with an institutional mandate in this area from the President and Congress.

We are particularly concerned that the reorganization will likely complicate the implementation of the DOE's new worker safety rule (10 C.F.R. 851 et seq.). The rule states: "The Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health has played a central role in the development of the final rule and will continue to playa central role in its implementation and enforcement." Reorganizing the ES&H Office that played a key role in the rule will create confusion in the field and among contractors who are currently preparing worker safety and health programs for submission prior to the February 26, 2007 deadline. For example, the regulations assign particular duties to the Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health. If that position is eliminated, the regulations cannot be enforced as currently drafted, causing likely delay and confusion.

We urge and request that you refrain from any action to implement a reorganization of the environmental, safety and health programs and activities at the Department until you (1) provide Congress with a detailed, written proposal on the reorganization, (2) fully brief Congress about the entire final proposal, and (3) give Congress sufficient time to review this proposal and provide you with feedback on our concerns.

Thank you for your attention to and consideration of this important issue.


Jim Bunning
Edward M. Kennedy

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