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Senator Asks Obama to Withdraw Labor Nominee

By Ed O'Keefe

The ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has asked President Obama to drop his nominee for Department of Labor solicitor. Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) suggests that M. Patricia Smith gave inconsistent testimony to the Senate panel about a New York wage theft prevention program she launched earlier this year.

M. Patricia Smith
M. Patricia Smith, President Obama's nominee to serve as solicitor of the Labor Department. (Courtesy N.Y. State Labor Dept.)

Obama nominated Smith, New York state's labor commissioner, in March to the third-ranking job at the Labor Department. If confirmed, she would serve as general counsel to Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis after more than 30 years working on labor issues.

In a letter sent Monday to Obama, Enzi said Smith's testimony before the Senate panel in May contradicts documents obtained by committee staffers about New York's Wage and Hour Watch program. The project, modeled after the Neighborhood Watch program, launched in January in an effort to root out wage theft.

Enzi and his staffers suggest the program unfairly targets small businesses and was developed without input from small-business representatives. Most notably, Enzi said Smith made "at least four significant statements" that contradict documents describing the program's development.

Smith told the committee that the program was developed internally by state officials, while documents show that a union and a public-interest entity partially financed by unions were involved in its development, according to Enzi spokesman Michael Mahaffey. Smith also described the program as an educational effort, while documents quote her aides, unions and public interest groups describing it as an enforcement program. Other statements made by Smith about the involvement of labor unions and the future of the program also contradicted documents obtained by Republican staffers.

“The Department of Labor and the American people deserve to have a solicitor of labor that can be counted on to fairly enforce the law and who has the full confidence of the Congress," Enzi stated in his letter. "Unfortunately, Smith is not the right candidate for the job.”

The White House and Labor Department declined to comment on the specific allegations, instead issuing a statement from Solis, who said Smith "is tough, fair and innovative. Our nation could ask for no better solicitor of labor than this."

So far, only roughly 40 percent of the 501 senior political appointments have been confirmed by the Senate, according to The Post's Head Count. The administration has filled just eight of the 18 open political positions at the Labor Department. As of July, Obama held the record for the most number of nominees confirmed the quickest to the topmost ranks of the government.

By Ed O'Keefe  | August 25, 2009; 2:05 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Congress, Revolving Door  
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