Senator Hatch Seeks Restored Labor Department Oversight; Skewers Obama, Solis

Hatch photoThe Department of Labor under President Obama appears to be doing everything it can to accommodate union interests, especially when it comes to investigating corruption. But a few members of Congress are openly objecting. Among them is Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Hatch on April 22 issued a rebuke to a decision by the department the previous day to roll back new rules designed to make union officials more accountable to the workers they represent. “It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is choosing a time of financial crisis to cut investigations into financial corruption solely because it may reside in its own politically constituency,” he said.

Hatch, formerly chairman (and still a member) of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, was referring to a DOL decision to rescind new regulations to increase the level of detail in LM-2 and LM-30 annual financial reporting forms. The regulations, finalized during the Bush years (and in the case of LM-2, this past January), would have required greater documentation of expenses by union officials and certain persons with whom they do business. Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao pitched the rules in the face of widespread conflicts of interest among union officials and their fiduciary agents. In absence of extra detail, she argued, union treasuries too often invited fraud and embezzlement. The unions couldn’t be more pleased. “From our perspective, the only interest served by this rule was to harass unions,” said AFL-CIO attorney James Coppess.

But “harass” also can mean protecting public integrity. Senator Hatch thinks the rollback was born of the department’s reluctance to offend organized labor. “In a time when the president himself has said we need more accountability and transparency in government, canceling rules to help root out corruption is not the way to go,” he remarked. “Americans want the administration to eliminate all fraud, not just that which is politically expedient.” During 2001-08, Labor Department investigations of unions produced more than 1,000 indictments, nearly 930 convictions, and about $93 million in restitution orders. Much of the theft occurred under cover of seemingly legitimate, if overly broad categories of expenditures. Because investigations very often proceed from discovery of suspect reporting data, it follows that more detail in reporting forms should lead to less theft. Orrin Hatch understands the connection. More lawmakers need to follow suit. (Deseret Morning News, 4/23/09; U.S. Chamber Magazine, 4/27/09).

photo credit: AP/Wide World

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