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New Acting Labor Secretary Focused ‘Like a Laser’ on Rulemaking

July 23, 2019, 10:23 AM

Patrick Pizzella kicked off his first week as acting labor secretary by emphasizing timely completion of regulations and promising updates to enforcement protocols to ensure businesses are investigated consistently throughout the country.

Labor Department staff should “focus like a laser beam on completing items on the Department’s Regulatory Agenda,” Pizzella told employees in a July 22 email obtained by Bloomberg Law.

Three actions that top that list are rules to clarify overtime pay qualifications and calculations, as well as to narrow corporations’ joint liability with affiliated companies for violations of federal employment laws.

Pizzella also wants to embark on a new initiative to update enforcement policies for investigators, a plan likely to address employer complaints that some local offices continue to enforce Obama-era policies.

“The Department will be reviewing our field manuals and enforcement materials to ensure DOL employees have the most up-to-date guidance at their fingertips,” Pizzella said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law.

The plan could lead to a significant revamp of how workplaces are probed across the country. Revisions will apply to all department enforcement agencies, including those investigating wages, safety, federal contractor equal employment, pensions, and union transparency.

Changes to enforcement “will be reflective of the policies that are being put in place,” a senior DOL official said. Field employees aren’t supervised on a daily basis by their agency heads in Washington, leading some investigators to make decisions based on information dating back to prior administrations’ policies, the official said.

Pizzella is seen as a more forceful government leader than his risk-averse predecessor. Acosta resigned effective July 19 following outrage over a 2008 plea deal he brokered as a federal prosecutor for accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.

Small Business Burdens

“Employers, particularly small employers, should not be overburdened with costs dealing with regulatory complexities,” Pizzella said in prepared remarks to Bloomberg Law. “The Department should do everything possible to make clear and common sense decisions in order for employers to understand their obligations under the law so they can invest in their workforce and grow their businesses.”

The agency began gradually transitioning to a less punitive approach under Acosta, focusing more on helping businesses to comply with the law.

The agency “will continue contributing to environments that foster safety, opportunity, and economic growth for America’s workers and job creators,” the new acting secretary said.

Worker advocates and unions, who opposed Pizzella’s nomination for deputy secretary in 2017, say he has a track record of undermining workplace protection laws. That includes his dissenting opinions siding with management against unions when serving on the Federal Labor Relations Authority and his 1990s lobbying with the disgraced Jack Abramoff to oppose the extension of federal labor and immigration laws to the U.S. territory the Northern Mariana Islands.

Scalia Prep

“We need to prepare for the confirmation of and transition to a new Secretary—a former colleague of many of us—Eugene Scalia,” Pizzella wrote to employees in his letter.

Trump announced his plans to nominate Scalia last week, before Pizzella has officially taken over as acting secretary.The news came as a surprise to some Labor Department officials, who were expecting Pizzella to remain as acting secretary for a period of time before possibly earning the nomination for the permanent job.

Scalia and Pizzella remain friends from their time at the department, where Pizzella was assistant for administration and management nearly all eight years of the George W. Bush presidency, the senior DOL official said.

If confirmed, Scalia would work alongside Pizzella for a third different president. They worked briefly together at the Education Department under Ronald Reagan, although they didn’t know each other at the time.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at