Obama official ordered labor board to pull rebuke of GOP budget

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had an independent agency take down a stinging press release aimed at the House Republicans' budget proposal, according to a newly released document.

In an e-mail obtained by The Hill under a Freedom of Information Act request, an OMB official told a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officer she should have checked before sending out a Feb. 18 press release titled, “Top NLRB officials respond to House budget proposal.”

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The NLRB statement slammed what was then the GOP’s proposed continuing resolution to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2011.

On the day the labor board’s statement was published, Michael Lazzeri, OMB's examiner for the NRLB, wrote to Shanti Ananthanayagam, the labor board’s budget officer, and asked her to take it down.

"In case didn't get my vmail. That press release needs to come down from your website. In the future you guys have to clear that stuff with us," Lazzeri wrote to Ananthanayagam in the e-mail.

The press release quoted NLRB Chairwoman Wilma Liebman and Lafe Solomon, the board’s acting general counsel, as saying the funding cuts would lead to agency delays and “would occur at a great cost to working people and responsible employers trying to survive in this difficult economic climate, and would have the potential to destabilize relations between labor and business.” 

They also said the proposed budget cuts would reduce the agency’s annual funding by 18 percent, or $50 million, which could lead to furloughs for all of the labor board’s 1,665 employees for 55 workdays. 

The press release was subsequently taken down. In its place on the labor board’s website is a bland statement that says, “The content in this statement has been removed. For further information on this subject, please see the President’s Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) regarding the budget, which can be found on the OMB website.”

OMB asking the labor board to take down the press release was first reported by The Huffington Post.

Asked why the press release was taken down, a spokeswoman for the labor board referred questions to OMB.

“In accordance with longstanding clearance procedures in Circular A-11, agencies are asked to clear such comments through OMB. In this case, the language on budget-related legislation had not been cleared, so it was taken down,” said Meg Reilly, an OMB spokeswoman.

Circular A-11 is a memo sent by OMB to federal agencies regarding the president’s budget proposal. The memo states that communications to Congress or the media about the president’s budget proposal need to receive clearance from OMB before being sent out, including “proposed press releases relating to the president’s budget.”

Despite the fears the labor board expressed in the original press release, the Republican-proposed budget cuts for the agency did not come to pass.

In the compromise deal to prevent the government shutdown, the labor board’s annual $282 million budget received only a 0.2 percent haircut — a reduction in line with other administrative agencies. The cut took $500,000 from the NRLB’s fiscal year 2011 funding.

Further, an amendment to the continuing resolution by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) that would have defunded the labor board entirely failed to pass earlier this year. Sixty House Republicans voted against axing the labor board’s budget in a 176-250 vote.

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The agency has recently become a source of controversy. NRLB’s April 20 complaint against Boeing for allegedly retaliating against union workers has incensed GOP lawmakers and business groups.

Under scrutiny is Boeing’s decision to establish a second production line for its new Dreamliner jet in South Carolina — a right-to-work state that generally prohibits mandatory union membership or dues — instead of in Washington state, where Boeing has unionized operations. 

The labor board cited statements made by Boeing executives expressing fear that work stoppages could hurt production as the reason the complaint was issued.

Republicans in both the House and Senate have threatened to hold up Solomon’s nomination as general counsel over the Boeing complaint and are pressing the NRLB to hand over the documents that explain the reasoning behind it.

Democrats have defended the labor board from the attacks. They say it is an independent agency that is performing a law enforcement action and should be free of political pressure.

The complaint is set to go before an administrative law judge at a June 14 hearing in Seattle.