Asleep at the Wheel

by Henry on December 29, 2008

This _Washington Post_ “story”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/28/AR2008122802124.html on what happened at OSHA over the Bush years tells the usual story of flacks being hired as political appointees to gut enforcement, scientific advice being ignored, internal dissenters being punished and so on. But this bit seemed unusual, even by Bush administration standards.

In 2006, Henshaw was replaced by Edwin G. Foulke Jr., a South Carolina lawyer and former Bush fundraiser who spent years defending companies cited by OSHA for safety and health violations. Foulke quickly acquired a reputation inside the Labor Department as a man who literally fell asleep on the job: Eyewitnesses said they saw him suddenly doze off at staff meetings, during teleconferences, in one-on-one briefings, at retreats involving senior deputies, on the dais at a conference in Europe, at an award ceremony for a corporation and during an interview with a candidate for deputy regional administrator.

His top aides said they rustled papers, wore attention-getting garb, pounded the table for emphasis or gently kicked his leg, all to keep him awake. But, if these tactics failed, sometimes they just continued talking as if he were awake. “We’ll be sitting there and things will fall out of his hands; people will go on talking like nothing ever happened,” said a career official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to a reporter. In an interview, Foulke denied falling asleep at work, although he said he was often tired and sometimes listened with his eyes closed. His goal, he said, was to create the best agency he could, partly by putting in place “performance metrics” not previously used at OSHA.