Tom Galassi, OSHA’s Director of Enforcement Programs retired as of last week. Tom is a certified industrial hygienist who began his career with OSHA in 1986 as a compliance officer in the Milwaukee, Wis., Area Office. Prior to heading the enforcement directorate, Tom was director of OSHA’s Directorate of Technical Support and Emergency Management (DTSEM), and he was Deputy Director of Enforcement before that. He served as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary in the first several months of the Trump administration.
Tom was a low-key leader will be sorely missed by those who value sensible enforcement programs and experienced career employees. We brought him over to direct enforcement from DTSEM in 2010 when Rich Fairfax was promoted to Deputy Assistant Secretary. For political appointees who value the advice that comes from years at an agency, Tom was a great example of the value of experienced career employee
Good agency heads are always coming up with great ideas for new programs, policies and initiatives. But while they may know where they want to go, they don’t generally know the best way to get there. Large bureaucracies have many rules — both formal and informal — and tend to be resistant to change, which can be frustrating to appointees anxious to steer the ship on a different course in a relatively short amount of time.
When then-Assistant Secretary David Michaels had a great new idea for enforcement, Tom was instrumental in explaining how to make the bureaucracy work to get there — not an easy task. And in some cases, he was able to deftly and subtly explain why an idea wouldn’t work — without actually telling the boss that his idea was crazy. This can be invaluable advice if you want to avoid going down the rabbit-hole of dead-end initiatives, multiple “clarifications,” and legal challenges.
Tom is the fourth major player working on workplace safety and health issues who has left OSHA/DOL in recent months, following former Deputy Assistant Secretary Dorothy Dougherty and Associate Solicitor for Occupational Safety and Health Ann Rosenthal. Region VIII Regional Administrator Greg Baxter — the (grand)father of the RAs — also retired at the beginning of this year.
Meanwhile, the current head of DTSEM, Mandy Edens, will be acting Director of Enforcement Programs. Mandy has spent most of her career in the Directorate of Standards and Guidance, where she was Deputy Director until being promoted to head DTSEM.
In these days where we hear too many political “leaders” from the President on down trashing public employees and raising the specter of the “Deep State,” we should remember those dedicated career employees who serve through Republican and Democratic administrations, and many of whom manage large, complex programs making far less money than comparable jobs in the private sector.
And political appointees who want to accomplish things could do no better than to listen carefully to the advice that people like Tom provide. It may not always be what you want to hear, and things may proceed more slowly than you would have liked, but agency heads ignore them at their peril.
So good luck Tom. You will be missed.