Occupational Safety and Health
Remarks by Pat Wood
National Partnership for Reinventing Government
Hammer Award Ceremony
November 27, 1998
Chairman Weisberg, fellow reinventors,
This is a day of celebration. On behalf of Vice President Gore and the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, let me offer congratulations to the entire Review Commission, and particularly to the Hammer team.
The Vice President set up the Hammer Award to recognize teams of federal employees who reinvented how government does its business, who put customers first, who cut red tape. And most of all to recognize teams that get results that the American people care about.
He chose a hammer for the award because a hammer can be used both to build and to demolish. As this hammer team today can attest, reinvention takes a bit of both.
I think we all know that 30 or 35 years ago, people in this country mostly trusted government to do the right thing most of the time. Polls in the early 60s showed more than 70 percent of the people believed that way.
Some of us who have lived in the intervening decades, and even worked for the government, saw much of that trust eroding as the years passed. It was hurtful. Somehow our system got so full of rules, so full of procedures, that it was hard for one person, or one small group of people to make any difference at all. Yet many of us chose public service because we wanted to make a difference. Red tape didn't just strangle the American people, it hindered those of us on the inside just as much.
By the early 90s, only about 20 percent of the American people believed that they could trust their government to do the right thing.
Vice President Gore believed strongly that federal employees were good people trapped in a bad system. He asked federal workers how things could be better and they told him. Then he asked them to fix things-to reinvent. And that's what many federal workers have been doing for the last 5 years. It's what this hammer team today has done.
So, as government reinventors, we can be encouraged by a study completed late in 1997. It revealed a slight upward trend in recent years in the number of Americans who trust their government. Thirty-nine percent of the public basically trusts the federal government to do the right thing, an 18-point gain since an all-time low of 21 percent in 1994.
If reinvention is at least partially responsible for this change, then reinventors like you today can take some of the credit.
When you wrote your application for the Hammer award, here's what you said:
Your sole statutory mandate from 1970 is to serve as a court providing just and expeditious resolution of disputes among OSHA, employers charged with violations, and employees and their unions. You also said your procedures were created to have less formality and greater efficiency than the federal courts.
Yet, in the words in your application:
"Unfortunately, over the past 20 years, the administrative procedures themselves have increasingly mirrored the technical complexity of the federal bench. This means that cases resolved with administrative procedures often require the same time and expense as if tried in the courts."
I don't have to tell you what you did. The Hammer team changed it. You reinvented what you were doing. You devised the E-Z trial program to cut out the unnecessary parts that somehow got into the system over 20 years. You went on the road to talk with your stakeholders and hold focus groups. With their help, you showed how the administrative procedures could be made much less cumbersome, how things could be speeded up-and all without sacrificing due process. These are results that mean a lot to the employers, especially small employers who sometimes just paid a fine they thought was unjust rather than seek their day in court.
And to help these employers--your "customers"--you put your reinvented procedures into a plain language guide, long before President Clinton and Vice President Gore announced that the federal government would use plain English in its communications to the public.
And if plain words weren't enough, you turned to pictures. You created a video to illustrate how the E-Z program works. Employers loved it.
In other words, you did it. And you did it without extra money or outside help. You-the people closest to the problem--knew what was wrong and you fixed it. You reinvented your part of government. You made what you do work better and cost less.
And I urge you to keep on doing it. And tell your counterparts in other organizations-other administrative law judges and commissions so they can learn from your example. And tell your kids and your neighbors. They need heroes. The Vice President is proud of you. I'm proud of you. That's why I'm here today. To give you one big hammer and a lot of little hammers to thank and congratulate you for what you have achieved.
Stuart E. Weisberg, Chairman
Irving Sommer, Chief Administrative Law Judge
Deborah A. Katz, Chief Counsel to the Chairman
William J. Gainer, Executive Director
Earl R. Ohman, Jr. General Counsel
John X. Cerveny, Attorney, Office of the General Counsel
Samuel E. Goldstein, Attorney
Office of the Chief Administrative Law Judge
Jeanne Hollingsworth, Special Assistant to the Chairman
Steve Scheige, Attorney, Office of the General Counsel
Linda Whitsett, Public Information Officer