Dems Unlabeled in Story about Fraud Investigation of Former Clinton Mine Safety Head

There are a few Democrats in Vicki Smith's coverage at the Associated Press, aka the Adminsitration's Press, of the fraud investigation of former Mine Safety and Health Administration Director J. Davitt McAteer. As is AP's derelict custom in cases where Dems are involved in scandal or corruption, the party affiliation of those Democrats isn't mentioned.

The first Democrat is McAteer himself, who, based on a review of Federal Election Commission records, given roughly $1,900 to various Democratic Party candidates and causes during the past 13 years, including contributions to the party's presidential nominees in 2000, 2004, and 2008. Then there's West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who was previously the state's governor. Finally, although the AP gets a pass for this (it's Sunday, and we're in a forgiving mood), the name and administration of Democrat Bill Clinton, the guy McAteer worked for when he headed MSHA, never comes up. Excerpts from Ms. Smith's party ID-free report follow:

One of the world's foremost experts on mine safety — from gold mines in Chile to the coal mines of southern West Virginia — stands accused by a NASA fraud investigator of conspiring with the Catholic college where he now works to use millions of federal grant dollars for personal gain and the school's benefit.

The allegations are contained in an affidavit that an agent in the NASA Office of Inspector General used to obtain search warrants in an active criminal investigation of former U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration director J. Davitt McAteer, and his alma mater and current employer, Wheeling Jesuit University.

Court records show investigators believe McAteer and the school fraudulently billed expenses to federal grant programs or cooperative agreements from 2005 through 2011.

The sworn affidavit by an agent who works out of the Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Md., said those expenses range from McAteer's salary — which surged from $130,300 in 2006 to $230,659 by 2008 — to cellphones, computers, technical support and salaries for other staff, including a secretary in McAteer's Shepherdstown private law office.

McAteer is an internationally known expert on mine safety who was hand-picked by West Virginia's former governor, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, to oversee thorough, independent investigations of three coal mine disasters since 2006. The Sago Mine explosion trapped and killed 12 men in January 2006, while the Alma No. 1 mine fire weeks later killed two more. McAteer also issued the first report on the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion, which killed 29.

The reports he authored are now among the evidence that federal investigators are studying. ...

... (Evidence suggests that) MSHA - the agency McAteer ran from 1992 to 2000 - was also defrauded. Among the titles McAteer has held at Wheeling Jesuit was director of the school's Coal Impoundment Project, designed to inform the public of locations of massive coal waste dams.

Contrary to Smith's final excerpted paragraph, McAteer's 2007 testimony (seen here at YouTube) indicates that he "served as the agency's Assistant Secretary" (i.e., the person in charge of the agency) from 1994 to 2000, and "for a time" was "the acting solicitor of labor."

To read reporters like the Charleston Gazette's Ken Ward, guys like McAteer are heroes of miner safety, and officials with industry experience who took over under George W. Bush needlessly endangered miners' lives. To listen to McAteer's 2007 linked testimony, one would think that business-favoring "interest group" politics was more important than safety (and of course, cost-benefit analysis never comes up).

The trouble is that the fatality results reported at MSHA, at least in terms of coal, don't bear these contentions out. Average annual fatalities during McAteer's tenure per his testimony were 38.6. Average fatalities from 2001 to 2009 (which is included because Bush 43's MSHA director did not leave his post until October of that year) were 31.1, or roughly 20% lower. Part of that gain is due to evolving improvements in safety practices and technology, but I maintain that another element is a consultative regulatory attitude getting better results than a confrontational one (I'm sure good 'ol Ken is popping some veins at that, but so be it). Oh, I almost forgot to say that 2009, during which. as noted, a Bush appointee stayed and ran MSHA until October, saw the lowest number of total mining fatalities (34, consisting of 18 in coal and 16 in "metal/non-metal") in U.S. history.

In 2010, the situation deteriorated, with 48 deaths (obviously including the Upper Branch explosion noted above) under the first Obama-appointed MSHA head, a guy with all kinds of experience on the union side of things. Maybe it was bad luck, but the new guy's presumptive approach that the employer is the bad guy can't have helped. I should also note that unlike after Sago in 2006, when the press, including the New York Times, attempted to pin the blame squarely on Bush, there was no knee-jerk "it's Obama's fault" reaction to the Upper Branch tragedy. Fortunately for miners and their families, 2011 fatalities came in at 37, the second-lowest on record. May those numbers continue to decline.

Back to AP: Manchin's and McAteer's party affiliation should have been mentioned. McAteer's name, which somehow didn't come up until Smith's second paragraph, should have been in the headline, the first paragraph, or both. If a former Republican MSHA official were in similar circumstances, his or her party ID would have been first-paragraph material, and his or her name would have appeared where McAteer's should have.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.