FEDERAL MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH REVIEW COMMISSION

                         

JUSTIFICATION OF

APPROPRIATION ESTIMATES

FOR

CONGRESSIONAL APPROPRIATIONS

 

 

 

FISCAL YEAR 2014

 

APRIL 10, 2013

 

 

 

 


Table of Contents

 

Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Request and Annual Performance Plan

 

Executive Summary..................................................................................................................... 1

Mission ......................................................................................................................................... 4

Functions and Procedures ....................................................................................................... 4

Strategic Goals ............................................................................................................................ 5

Organization Chart....................................................................................................................... 6

Commission Members ............................................................................................................. 7

Appropriation Language............................................................................................................. 8

Authorizing Legislation............................................................................................................... 8

Justification by Function ............................................................................................................ 9

           General Statement .......................................................................................................... 9

            Activities:

               Administrative Law Judge Function........................................................................ 11

               Commission Review Function................................................................................ 16

               Office of the Executive Director Function................................................................ 24

Charts and Graphs .................................................................................................................. 26

Budget Authority by Object Class

Personnel Summary         

Amounts Available for Obligation

Summary of Changes by Budget Authority        

Appropriations and Staffing History Table                     


 


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (Commission) is an independent adjudicatory agency that provides administrative trial and appellate review of legal disputes arising under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 [30 U.S.C 801 et seq.] (Mine Act), as amended.  Section 113 of the Mine Act establishes the Commission and sets forth its responsibilities.  The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 [Pub. L. 109-236] (MINER Act) added an additional responsibility to the Commission, resolving disputes between the Secretary of Labor and underground coal operators with respect to the contents of emergency response plans or the SecretaryŐs refusal to approve such plans.

The Commission is requesting a budget of $16,423,000 for FY 2014 to support the full-time equivalent (FTE) of 76 staff members.  The requested FY 2014 funding level is $1,181,000 below the FY 2012 enacted level as a result of the one-time funding in FY 2012 to support moving the Commission Headquarters to a new location in Washington, DC and the purchase of a new electronic case management system.  

Most cases that come before the Commission involve civil penalties proposed by the Department of LaborŐs Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) against mine operators.  The Commission is responsible for addressing whether the alleged violations occurred, as well as the assessment of appropriate civil penalties.  Other types of cases include contests of MSHA orders to close a mine for health or safety reasons, minersŐ charges of discrimination based on their complaints regarding health or safety, and minersŐ requests for compensation after being idled by a mine closure order.  Disputes involving the temporary reinstatement of a miner or an emergency response plan must be decided on an expedited basis. 

The CommissionŐs Administrative Law Judges (judges) decide cases at the trial level.  The five-member Commission provides administrative appellate review.  Review of a judgeŐs decision by the Commission is not automatic, and requires the approval of at least two Commissioners.  Most of the cases accepted for review are generated from petitions filed by parties adversely affected by a judgeŐs decision. In addition, the Commission, on its own initiative, may decide to review a case.  A judgeŐs decision that is not accepted for review becomes a final, non-precedential order of the Commission.  Appeals from the CommissionŐs decisions are to the federal courts of appeals.

Cases at the trial level are handled by the CommissionŐs Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ).  The number of pending trial-level cases has been the subject of much concern.  The increased number of cases on hand is the result of a dramatic growth in the number of new cases filed with the Commission.  From FY 2000 through FY 2005, the average number of cases filed was 192 per month, or 2,307 per year.  However, since FY 2006 the number of new cases filed increased steadily, and in FY 2014 it is expected that 11,000 new cases will be filed.

The CommissionŐs overall management priority continues to be the reduction of the case backlog. The Commission has taken a number of steps to dispose of cases more efficiently and reduce the number of cases on hand.  To expedite the processing of settlement decisions, the Commission promulgated a final rule requiring that parties submit proposed settlement orders to the Commission in electronic form. 75 Fed. Reg. 73955 (Nov. 30, 2010).  The rule became effective on December 30, 2010.

In December 2011, the Commission published a final rule setting forth simplified procedures for litigating certain categories of cases before the CommissionŐs judges.  75 Fed. Reg. 81459 (Dec. 28, 2011).  Although the simplified proceedings rule became effective on March 1, 2011, full implementation was delayed until May 2012.  The Commission will track cases disposed of through simplified proceedings in order to assess the success of this alternative procedure for case disposition.

As a result of staff added using a supplemental appropriation in FY 2010 and efficiency measures implemented by the Commission to expedite the disposition of certain cases, the number of undecided trial-level cases on hand dropped from 18,170 in FY 2010 to 15,788 by the beginning of FY 2012.  This was the first drop in the CommissionŐs trial-level case inventory from one year to the next since FY 2004. 

We project that the Commission will begin FY 2014 with 11,682 undecided trial cases.  During FY 2014, we anticipate that 11,000 new cases will be filed, and that Commission judges will dispose of 11,000 cases.  Thus, the case inventory at the end of the year will remain at 11,682.

In recent years, the CommissionŐs appellate review function has also seen a dramatic increase in the number of filings.  The trend of parties filing an increased number of petitions for review each year is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, and even accelerate as the CommissionŐs judges increase their dispositions in the course of addressing the cases on hand. 

Resolving these substantive cases creates a great demand on the resources of the five-member Commission and the Office of General Counsel (OGC).  Typically, in these substantive cases, the Commissioners, with the assistance of the OGC, review and analyze extensive briefs filed by the parties, sometimes conduct an oral argument, and issue a decision which addresses all the contentions raised by the parties.

In addition to petitions for review in substantive cases, the Commission at the appellate level considers requests to reopen cases in which a mine operator is in default for failing to timely respond to the SecretaryŐs proposed penalty or to a judgeŐs order. These cases are generically referred to as default cases.  The number of these requests for reopening filed each year has remained at historically high levels.

 

The Commission has also identified the need for an electronic Case Management System (CMS). Using funding provided in FY 2012, the Commission intends to implement an electronic CMS during FY 2013. This will be an integrated product that will allow most cases and documents to be filed, managed, stored and tracked internally online, both at the OALJ and at the Commissioner levels. An additional goal is to increase public access under the Freedom of Information Act and other transparency initiatives designed to promote greater public understanding of the CommissionŐs activities.

 

 

 


 

MISSION

 

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission is an independent adjudicatory agency charged with resolving disputes arising from the enforcement of safety and health standards in the nationŐs mines.  Under its enabling statute, the Mine Act, the Commission does not regulate the mining industry, nor does it enforce the Mine Act; those functions are delegated to the Secretary of Labor acting through MSHA. The CommissionŐs mission is to provide just, speedy, and legally sound adjudication of proceedings authorized under the Mine Act, thereby enhancing compliance with the Act and contributing to the improved health and safety of the nationŐs miners.

 

The scope of the CommissionŐs mission was expanded by the passage of the MINER Act in 2006.  That statute amended the Mine Act and vested the Commission with the responsibility for resolving disputes over the contents of mine emergency plans adopted by underground coal mine operators and submitted to MSHA for review and approval.  The MINER Act imposed tight deadlines on the Commission and its judges with respect to these proceedings, and the Commission has adopted procedural rules to implement those deadlines.

 

FUNCTIONS AND PROCEDURES

The Commission carries out its responsibilities through trial-level adjudication by judges and appellate review of judgesŐ decisions by a five-member Commission appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  Most cases involve challenges to civil penalties proposed by MSHA against mine operators and address whether or not the alleged safety and health violations occurred and if so, the degree of gravity and negligence involved, so that appropriate sanctions may be imposed.  Other types of cases involve mine operatorsŐ contests of mine closure orders, minersŐ complaints of safety or health related discrimination, minersŐ applications for compensation after a mine is idled by a closure order, and review of disputes between MSHA and underground coal mine operators relating to those operatorsŐ mine emergency plans.

Once a case is filed with the Commission, it is referred to the Chief Administrative Law Judge (Chief Judge).  Thereafter, litigants in the case must submit additional filings before the case is assigned to a judge.  To expedite the decisional process, the Chief Judge may rule on certain motions and where appropriate, issue orders of settlement, dismissal, or default.  Otherwise, once a case is assigned to an individual judge, that judge is responsible for the case and rules upon motions and settlement proposals.  If a hearing is necessary, the judge schedules and presides over the hearing, and issues a decision based upon the record.  A judgeŐs decision becomes a final, non-precedential order of the Commission unless it is accepted for review by the five-member Commission.

The Commission provides administrative appellate review. It may, in its discretion, review decisions issued by judges when requested by a litigant, or it may, on its own initiative, direct cases for review.  The CommissionŐs decisions are precedential, and appeals from the CommissionŐs decisions are heard in the federal courts of appeals.

The Office of the Executive Director supports the above functions by providing budget and financial management, and administrative and technical services, including human resources and information technology, procurement and contracting, and facilities management.

 

STRATEGIC GOALS

 

The Commission has set forth the following strategic goals:

 

á      ensure expeditious, fair, and legally sound adjudication of cases at the trial and appellate levels

 

á      manage the CommissionŐs human resources, operations, facilities, and information technology systems to ensure a continually improving, effective, and efficient organization