As President-Elect Joe Biden begins to put together his Cabinet and governing agenda for his upcoming administration, he faces numerous challenges, from a surging pandemic to a struggling economy. He also has the daunting task, many say, of restoring integrity and traditional norms to the institutions of the federal government.
UB Law Dean Ronald Weich, a former senior Senate staffer and assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice (DOJ), and Prof. Nancy Modesitt, who teaches employment law and torts and is also a DOJ veteran, recently published op-eds offering suggestions to the Biden transition team.
Weich’s Nov. 20 op-ed, co-authored with former DOJ colleague Edgar Chen, appeared in Just Security. Titled “The Next Attorney General’s Allegiance Must Be to the Rule of Law,” it describes critical qualifications needed in a Biden nominee.
“Biden will choose from a pool of many qualified individuals. But, in our view, the key credentials of the next AG should be significant prosecutorial experience at the federal or state level and an abiding fidelity to the apolitical administration of justice, even if doing so results in outcomes that do not politically benefit the new administration.
“Such a choice would go a long way toward reassuring the public and rank-and-file DOJ attorneys and law enforcement agents that the incoming leadership understands that the Department’s mission is to pursue impartial justice, guided by evidence and law, free from partisan considerations,” the authors wrote.
In her Nov. 22 op-ed for The Hill, Modesitt explored ways in which the Biden administration could use OSHA to address coronavirus spread in the workplace.
“Under the Trump administration,” she wrote, “the federal agency tasked with protecting workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), failed to act to protect workers from the risks of infection with COVID-19, creating workplace outbreaks. OSHA refused to produce legally binding rules, known as emergency temporary standards, that would require employers to take even the most basic step of requiring masks in the workplace to protect workers from the risks of infection on the job. …
“OSHA also failed to use its enforcement authority in a way that would encourage employers to use risk-mitigation strategies in the workplace. Rather than undertaking increased inspections to send a signal that employers need to protect workers from COVID-19, OSHA has conducted fewer inspections since the onset of the pandemic than it has in previous years,” she wrote.
Modesitt advocates for replacing the current OSHA commissioner with someone more aggressively focused on limiting COVID spread in U.S. workplaces. She also argued that stronger enforcement is needed to have a meaningful impact on transmission rates.
“Creating legally binding safety and health rules, and improving guidance documents, are only two of the steps needed to significantly decrease workplace infections. Effective enforcement must also be a part of the plan. For many years, OSHA has had far too few inspectors to effectively enforce workplace safety rules. Fixing this problem requires Congress to prioritize funding for hiring more inspectors.”